The Basics: selling art on NYC streets or in parks


By Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.

(Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics)

Contact: (201) 777-0391

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For ARTIST videos showing the history of our movement go to:

Here's the most basic information about vending art in NYC written in a question and answer format. Please share

it with your fellow artists and vendors.

1. Are there any restrictions on selling art?

Due to the rulings in the ARTIST lawsuits, those selling visual art on public property in NYC now have the same

Constitutional protections as someone selling a book or a newspaper. This means they are no longer required to

have a vending license or Parks Department vending permit. They can sell art from a table, an easel or a stand as

long as it is within the size limits and is placed in a legal vending spot. Nevertheless, we are legally considered

vendors and remain subject to a few specific time, place and manner restrictions. If you violate these restrictions,

you could get a summons. In some instances, you may also be subject to confiscation of your art or arrest. These

“time, place and manner of display,” vending restrictions only apply if we are using a vending stand. An

alternative way to sell is called, No Stand Vending. If we are holding art in our hands and selling it; if we have a

display that does not rest on the ground (in other words we hold, wear or carry it); if we are only displaying art on

a stand and are not offering it for sale; or, if we are only creating art there are no legal restrictions on the time,

distance from a door or which streets we can sell on. This list of streets that are restricted to artists only applies if

you are using a vending stand and are selling the art. See the No Stand documents in the FILES section of the

website. Also see No Stand vending videos with examples of how to do this at:

No stand vending ONLY applies to First Amendment protected vendors and ONLY to those who are selling on a

street that is otherwise completely restricted to ALL vending. There are official NYPD documents on No Stand

vending and the list of restricted streets in the FILES section of the ARTIST website.

No Stand Vending

2. What are the basic vending law rules for artists?

Note: The full text of the NYC vending laws is 60 pages long. This is only a partial summary for your

convenience. Get the full text here:

Art vending stands must be located at least 20' from a door (10' from the door of an exclusively residential

building), 10' from a corner and must not touch or in any way be attached to a fire hydrant or other item of street

furniture such as a parking meter, sign, lightpole or telephone booth. There is no required distance from a fire

hydrant, only that you may not touch it (See hydrant laws in FILES section). The size limit of an art vending

display is 5' in height, 8' in length and 3' in width. There is no specified limit for a display of art that is not for

sale. The sidewalk must be at least 12' wide in order to use it. You cannot legally place art against a wall, on a

store window or on a fence unless you have written permission from the property owner. You cannot legally lay

art on the floor or display it on your car. While you can legally sell another person's art, one person cannot sell

from more than one stand unless the total size of the combined stands is 8' or less. Individuals selling from two or

three full-sized stands or from a grossly oversized stand are both violating the law and unfairly denying other

artists and vendors space on the street.

Tax ID

The City requires all vendors including written matter vendors and artists to have a sales tax ID and carry it with

them while vending.

To apply for a tax ID go to:

Use form # DTF-17 (Fill-in)

DTF-17-I (Instructions)

Application to Register for a Sales Tax Certificate of Authority.

If you are not selling anything, you do not need a tax ID.

Other types of vendors (disabled veterans, food vendors, general merchandise licensed vendors) have more

restrictive legal rules and street restrictions. If you want to be sure what the current laws are and want to have

authoritative proof of them to show a police officer, get and carry the vending law documents noted above.

Restricted Streets

There are a number of streets where artists are not allowed to sell.

for a full list, go here:

Artists may also sell on an otherwise completely restricted street, such as Fifth Avenue in Midtown or Prince

Street in SoHo on Saturday and Sunday if a disabled veteran vendor is set up there (OR if they are engaged in No

Stand Vending.) In the files section there is an official NYC document about artists and disabled vets. You will

want it with you if you intend to do this.

Exigent circumstances

One other important law you need to know concerns "exigent circumstances." Police can cite exigent

circumstances and then order you to close up an otherwise legal vending stand IF there is an accident, fire, parade,

protest, fire or other emergency. If a sidewalk becomes "unusually" crowded they can also cite exigent

circumstances. Exigent circumstances is a temporary emergency condition. Police cannot lawfully cite exigent

circumstances just because someone in a store or apartment house made a complaint about a vendor or artist.

What do I do if my art is ever confiscated by the police?

If the police ever confiscate your art or art display for violating vending laws it is crucial that you get a voucher

from them describing in detail whatever they took. By law, you can get everything back within 24 hours at the

precinct it was taken to regardless of the outcome of your summons case. If you have not gotten a voucher you

will likely get nothing back. The police are required by law to give you a voucher. If they refuse, make sure to get

that on tape! It is 100% legal in NY State to tape record, videotape or photograph the police. In the links section

see State by State, Rules for Taping Conversations.

3. Are you allowed to sell someone else's art on the street?

All the rights and laws concerning NYC street artists apply equally to artists selling their own works and to art

vendors selling someone else's work. Under full First Amendment protection, someone selling a book, a

newspaper or making a speech need not be the author. The essence of why you can sell on the street under the

First Amendment is that you are expressing ideas. It is NOT based on making something by hand. Anyone

expressing ideas is similarly protected whether or not they originated those ideas.

4. Where can I find the entire texts of the NYC vending laws in writing?

Important note: In the NYC vending laws, artists are referred to as Written Matter Vendors, not artists. Only those

laws which apply to written matter vendors (sometimes alternately described as First Amendment protected

vendors) apply to street artists. There are many details, variations and exemptions to these laws that are not

described here. I'd suggest that you carry the entire vending law with you whenever vending. Also please read the

articles on our website if you want to fully understand the complex legal and political aspects behind this issue.

5. Why are visual artists allowed to sell without a vending license?

Before 1997 NYC street artists were required to have a vending license, yet none were available. From 1993 until

1996 thousands of NYC artists were arrested and had their art confiscated by the police for not having a license.

In 1993 an advocacy group was formed named, ARTIST (Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics). Since 1996

when ARTIST won its first two consolidated lawsuits [Bery/Lederman et al v City of NY] NYC street artists are

exempted from any vending license and are subject to only those restrictions that apply to First Amendmentprotected

written matter vendors. In 2001 ARTIST members won two more lawsuits [Lederman et al v

Giuliani/Bach et al v City of NY] which eliminated the Parks Department artist permit requirement. Today artists

need no vending license or Parks permit anywhere in NYC. You can read the rulings and full history of these

cases at the website.

6. What does the City of NY consider “art” from a legal perspective?

In this narrow legal context, a 'street artist' is anyone selling visual art. 'Visual Art' is broadly characterized by

current NYC vending law as paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, videos, DVDs, and CDs - but may also

include other items with expressive content. Being handmade is not what makes an item protected by free speech.

[Please note, these definitions of what is or is not art are the City of NY’s, not the ARTIST groups’.] NYC

vending law does not recognize jewelry, crafts, handmade clothing or many other items of artistic merit as being

First Amendment protected and therefore exempt from a vending license. Thousands of jewelry and craft vendors

are arrested each year. A recent Federal Appeals Court ruling, Mastrovincenzo v City of NY [see FILES section

of the website] is the prevailing case law on this. Also see:

7. Permits, concessions, street fairs, Holiday Markets and art shows

The rights we won in our lawsuits are different from, and superior to, the arrangements artists in other cites have

where there are public art shows that only a few artists are allowed to participate in. In some US cities such as San

Francisco and Venice Beach California, there are one or more limited areas where a handful of street artists with a

permit are allowed to sell their works. Artists are forced to navigate a very elaborate and often very expensive

system of getting a permit and then entering a lottery to win a space. The right to sell art can then be taken away

by city officials anytime they desire, including for the slightest infraction of the rules. Under our system you need

no one's permission and your rights cannot be taken away. It is a Constitutional right.

8. Are vending spots reserved?

Many street artists and vendors mistakenly believe that a vending spot belongs exclusively to them once they have

set up in it over some period of time. This belief has no legal basis and directly contradicts the laws about free

speech on public property. A vending spot on public property is not a bank account. You don't earn interest by

staying in it over time. By definition, public space means the entire public is entitled to have access to it.

Nevertheless, we advise new street artists to proceed cautiously in selecting a vending spot. Be sensitive to the

fact that those who routinely set up in an area have established a pecking order. Going out of your way to take a

spot from someone who believes they own it causes conflict and resentment. Artists who claim ownership of a

vending spot should read up on the First Amendment and educate themselves about the real meaning of public

space. Such claims of ownership directly contradict all the legal rulings that made it possible for you to sell art on

the street.

9. Where and when call I sell art?

While most street artists cling to a few areas such as SoHo, Union Sq. Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

almost every street in NYC and every single NYC Park is legally open to vending by artists, so there is more than

enough space for us all. You can sell 24 hours a day on most streets. Nighttime selling can be as profitable as

during the day and there is much less competition for spaces. The ONLY places you cannot sell are listed in the

document, Streets Restricted to Artists and Book Vendors in the FILES section of the ARTIST website. Chelsea

is now home to hundreds of art galleries and is an ideal place to encounter serious art collectors.

10. What are the vending laws in NYC Parks?

As of 2010 there are new Parks Department rules for artists, who are described in the rules as, “expressive matter

vendors.” We are currently suing the City to get rid of these very restrictive rules. Until we win, they remain in

effect. You can get the Park rules here:

See the items under:

Frequently Asked Questions about New Rules for selling art, photography, reading material, or sculpture in City

Parks [PDF]


For a detailed exposition on what’s wrong with the park rules see:

11. Are calligraphers and name painters protected by the ARTIST rulings?

A controversy over this issue in Parks has recently been unofficially resolved (For the media coverage of it do a

search for within the ARTIST archives or look in the FILES section under the word calligraphy.) The Parks

Commissioner has now publicly stated that such artists are protected by the ARTIST rulings, however, he has so

far not officially changed the policy in writing.

12. Do I have to I move my vending stand if a storeowner, resident or landlord tells me to?

Our right to vend is about free speech on public property, which is the curbside section of the sidewalk.

Landlords, storeowners and building residents have unique rights within their private property, which extends a

few feet from the wall. It's always a good idea to have a harmonious relationship with property owners, but they

have no authority to order you to do anything while you are on public property alongside the curb. Every time an

artist abandons a legal vending spot because a storeowner told them to, they have encouraged further harassment.

On the other hand, please do not set up anything, including your chair, on private property unless you have the

owners’ permission.

13. How should I deal with the police?

ARTIST members are urged to get along with the police and to act politely and respectfully whenever dealing

with them. Our struggle is not with the police but with the people who send them to harass us. Unfortunately,

NYC has a longstanding politically motivated policy of harassing vendors which results in the NYPD and other

enforcement officials being deliberately misinformed about the vending laws. In many instances they are ordered

to illegally harass street artists. This is due to political pressure from influential real estate interests such as BIDs

(Business Improvement Districts), and landlord groups like the SoHo Alliance. This politically and financially

motivated harassment of vendors never ceases, and much of it is completely illegal. What can you do? Apart from

our group actions, the way for individuals to protect themselves has three parts.

a. Know the vending laws, carry them with you and be prepared to show them to the police. If you are following

the law not even the police have a right to move you. You will find from experience that most police officers

know very little about the actual vending laws.

b. Tape record, videotape and photograph all conversations, enforcement actions and interactions with the police,

including them measuring your stand. This is 100% legal in NYC, with or without their knowledge that you are

taping. They are instructed in their own rules (the NYPD Patrol Guide) to not interfere with your doing so. You

can legally use these tapes and photos in your defense in court, and they will help you beat any false charges.

Likewise, you can and should document any gallery, storeowner or resident harassing you. A video camera is the

best protection you can have on the street. Videotapes, audiotapes and photographs make the best evidence in


c. Never plead guilty to any summons if you are not guilty. Sue the city for damages if they harass you. ARTIST

members have won many lawsuits against NYC and these lawsuits are the entire reason you can now legally sell

art on the street and in Parks.

14. Should I participate in ARTIST protests and rallies?

As a group ARTIST periodically engages in protests in order to pressure City officials to back off on illegal

harassment. When City officials try to create new laws to take away our rights, as they are preparing to do right

now, we fight back by using our First Amendment right to nonviolently protest, engage in letter writing

campaigns, testify at hearings and to lobby elected officials. When we have the next protest or other action, please

participate and try to get other artists to attend as well. If you have the time and energy to sell on the street, you

should feel an obligation to help us defend these rights.

Over the past decade ARTIST has successfully stopped every effort by elected officials to create new vending

restrictions on street artists. NYC officials have never voluntarily "given" anything to street artists. Everything

they try to do is about taking our rights away. When there is unjustified police enforcement we also engage in

spontaneous immediate protests. Please have a sign saying STOP HARASSING THE ARTISTS or something

similar at your stand so that you will be prepared to help your fellow street artists if needed.

How NYC street artists won our rights

15. What should I do if a reporter or City official wants to interview me about vending?

Talk to them, but be very careful about what you say. Most NYC newspapers and TV stations are politically

aligned with powerful landlord and business protection groups that have been trying to eliminate vending for

decades. Reporters will frequently try to get you to say something negative about other vendors or to support the

need for new vending restrictions. City officials routinely engage in this same technique during private meetings

with vendors and in hearings about vending before the City Council. These City officials get huge campaign

contributions from the landlord groups that are the most committed opponents of vending. They are not interested

in your ideas on improving vending but only on getting you to testify against other vendors. They will also try to

get you to say how much you make on the street and then use that as justification for supporting a vending

license, new taxes on vendors or other new restrictions. If you choose to talk publicly about vending, don't let

yourself be exploited by the media or by elected officials in this way. When interviewed or when testifying before

the City Council most vendors say all the wrong things, giving our critics exactly what they are looking for in the

way of damaging statements about the vending scene. Please refer all reporters and inquiries from elected officials

to the ARTIST website and give them my phone number so they can get the full picture on art vending. Also, let

them know you are a member of ARTIST.

In the archive of our website you can find more than 1,000 articles on the politics behind vending, including most

mainstream news articles on it from the past ten years. You'll also find links for maps of NYC, the weather,

copyright info, search engines, legal archives and a great deal of other information that will be of great value and


There are daily challenges and obstacles to be overcome for all vendors in NYC. Drastic new vending laws are

right now being proposed by real estate interests, City officials and even by some misguided vendors who, for

financial and territorial reasons, want to restrict other vendors from the street. If you want to have a good

experience on the street there’s a lot more you need to know than just the basic vending laws. Our ARTIST

newsletter is where you will get all this updated information as needed.

16. How do I subscribe to the ARTIST newsletter?

If you want to know what's going on with police enforcement and help defend the irreplaceable rights the

members of ARTIST have already won, subscribe to our free email newsletter by sending a blank email to:

You will get an email from Yahoo. Respond to that and you are subscribed.

No other artists in the U.S. have the rights we've won here. Let's hold on to them.


Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.

201 777-0391

(leave a short clear message with your number clearly spoken)

For ARTIST videos go to: