Protecting NYC Buskers’ Rights, and giving them cashless payments

Digital payments and an end to the wrongful arrest of New York City buskers.


New York, NY, 30th March 2015: The Busking Project, a global advocacy movement, has launched a digital toolkit that will transform the way in which buskers (street performers) get paid. New York Buskers are now using special edition “BuskNY” signs that enable them to accept cashless payments in the street.

New Yorkers carry less cash every year, putting traditional busking at risk. With an increasing number of audience members having to ask ‘do you take cards?’, buskers are beginning to modernize. Using The Busking Project’s digital platform,, they can print and display signs directing passersby to their profiles. There, people can donate to the busker via PayPal, become a ‘fan’ and stay in touch.

However, this is not just about money. Nick Broad, The Busking Project’s founder, has greater goals:

“We’ve released these signs to help stop busking from dying out in a cashless society,” he says, “destroying the livelihoods of thousands of artists in New York.

“But this isn’t just a tech solution. We want a complete paradigm shift. At best, buskers are seen as failed artists. At worst they’re seen as criminals, or ‘beggars with a gimmick’ – and often treated that way too.”

For example, despite being a city with a star-studded lineage of street performers (including the late Robin Williams), buskers here continue to get fined and arrested on a daily basis. Recent buskers who have decided to fight the NYPD in court over wrongful arrest include Erik Meier, Andrew Kalleen, James Woodard and James Gallagher. Even worse – this year is the 30th anniversary of the legalisation of busking on NYC’s subways and streets, and can otherwise be viewed as the 30th year in which buskers are being unlawfully ticketed and arrested for busking.

From the complaint filed by Kalleen, Woodard and Gallagher’s attorney, Paul Hale:

“Despite the law being clear for over three decades, New York City police officers continue to harass, evict, assault and arrest New Yorkers for playing music underground in perfectly legal circumstances…. The NYPD has specifically ordered the illegal conduct of its officers by directive. This is evidenced by numerous statements made to the arrestee plaintiffs by their arresting officers. Statements such as, ‘There is a memo that told us to clear you guys out’; ‘Our bosses are making us do this’ and ‘If I don’t write you a ticket my boss will think I’m not doing anything.’”

Broad continues:

“I’d heard that the cops themselves didn’t know the law, so, I called my local precinct in Manhattan and pretended I was an out-of-town busker who wanted to know where I could play. The cops told me ‘anywhere, you just gotta get a permit from the mayor’s office’. So I called 311, and they rightly told that no-such permit exists. That famously farcical video showing Andrew Kalleen’s wrongful arrest just isn’t surprising to any busker in New York City. They’ve all been there.”

In December 2014, The Busking Project moved back to New York to partner with BuskNY, who came up with the slogan on the signs: “Celebrating 30 years of legal freelance performance in the New York City subway.” The signs have been designed to appear more “legit”, in an attempt to remind police officers that busking is a legitimate exercise, and therefore lower the fine and arrest rate of buskers in the city.

Matthew Christian, the founder of BuskNY, says:

“As the 30th anniversary of legal subway performance arrives, it is tragic that New York City continues to eject, ticket, and arrest the artists who entertain over four million daily riders. BuskNY’s mission is to ensure that these performances take place without unlawful harassment.”

Broad says:

“It’s amazing to see what BuskNY is doing, and we’re honoured to be helping them, but it’s a shame that organisations like theirs even have to exist. Busking is being increasingly criminalised around the world by misguided local authorities who believe they are acting in the public’s interest. In fact, they are silencing an art form that has significant, demonstrable social and economic benefits.

“We know from our research on busking that the digital revolution is a real threat to buskers’ livelihoods, and that people are willing to pay buskers with their cards. But our main aim is to get local authorities to start encouraging artists to revitalise our increasingly sterile and homogenous town centres, instead of treating them like criminals.”

Paul Hale, the attorney representing these buskers, is actively seeking other buskers/plaintiffs to join the lawsuit.  He can be contacted at 718-554-7344






Nick Broad, Founder, The Busking Project

Matthew Christian, Founder, BuskNY

Andrew Kalleen, busker suing NYPD

James Gallagher, busker suing NYPD

Paul Hale, attorney representing buskers

Coyote and Crow, buskers in NYC


Additional Busker Event Notice (not a event):

When: Thursday, April 2nd, 7 p.m.
Where: City Lore Gallery  56 East First Street, New York, NY 10003
Admission: $5 suggested donation at the door.
What: Busking at 30: Sounds and Stories from the Underground
Who: Roger Manning, the guitarist whose historic 1985 legal challenge opened the subway to artistic performance. Lloyd Carew-Reid, whose challenges completed the legalization. With performances also from Morgan O’Kane (headline act) and Theo Eastwind, producer of Busker Ball. And Susie Tanenbaum, who works at the Queens Borough President’s Office and previously wrote the book “Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York.
Why: “With the recent rise in street performer arrests and harassment, “Busking at 30” aims to highlight the importance of this underground culture and what it brings to the diverse and vibrant fabric of New York City.”

Further Reading:

Kalleen, Woodard and Gallagher VS the City of New York (ongoing). PLEASE NOTE: Paul Hale, the attorney representing these buskers, is actively seeking other buskers/plaintiffs to join the lawsuit.  He can be contacted at 718-554-7344

Know your Rights”, by Susie Tanenbaum and City Lore, is an online guide detailing the rights and responsibilities of New York Subway artists.