Is it legal to perform in the subway? The relationship between musicians and MTA police has long been fraught with misunderstanding and inconsistency. This friction was brought to light again in October, when a video (screen shot above) made the rounds on social media, showing the arrest of musician Andrew Kalleen, who had been singing and playing guitar on the platform at the Metropolitan Avenue stop on the G train. The video, which was posted to YouTube and now has over a million views, shows a police officer approaching Kalleen and asking him to stop playing and leave the area. Kalleen then provides the officer with a printed copy of the MTA’s rules of conduct (which state that performances of this nature are permitted), and then attempts to resume his performance, at which point he is arrested by the officer. The video ends with several other people on the platform cheering Andrew on, as he continues to sing as he is taken away by the officer. The video, taken by a bystander on the subway platform, got many responses on Facebook and Twitter, and the story made it to several news outlets, including the New York Daily News.
In response to what many saw as harassment of a performer involved in a legal activity, a group of musicians and activists held a rally in front of the MTA police station connected to the Metropolitan station just a few days after the incident. The event drew dozens of performers and activists, and the rally’s speakers included Kalleen himself, a representative of Busk NY (a group that advocates for subway performers), City Councilmembers Robert E. Cornegy Jr. and Stephen Levin, and Local 802 Recording VP John O’Connor.
“We need to reclaim this city as a city of music,” O’Connor said, expressing Local 802’s support for musicians like Andrew. “The union is 100 percent behind the right for musicians to practice their art in public,” added O’Connor.
The rally was covered by several news organizations, and was featured on NY1 and PIX11, as well as in a segment on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.
A reminder to any musician who wishes to perform in NYC subways: the MTA’s rules explicitly state that “artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations” are allowed, “provided they do not impede transit activities.” They are not, however, legally allowed inside of subway cars or within 25 feet of a station booth or ticket vending machine, and the use of any amplification is forbidden. (The full MTA rules of conduct can be found at http://web.mta.info/nyct/rules/rules.htm).