[The following text was sent to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It may be reprinted and freely distributed only if unedited, and with proper attribution.]

The New Protection Racket: Art Police in NYC

"Poetry should be made by all." (Ducasse)

Let's be clear:

There is no shock of discovery when we read that the police are routinely rounding up "street artists" in New York City, confiscating their work (which the city then auctions off), and charging them with a violation of a city vendor licensing ordinance (as many as 300 arrests since 1993 by the latest account -- see A.R.T.I.S.T. [broken link removed]).


Nor is it surprising that the artists return for more official abuse. As distasteful a surrender to the "marketplace" as such street vending may be, it is often the least compromising way for an individual to negotiate economic imperative.

The concept of requiring government sanction (license) to exhibit art in public spaces, however, is totally abhorrent and continuing reports of blatantly militaristic government enforcement of POWER's vested interest in defining all creative work as "commodity" and city streets as a restricted commercial domain fill us with rage.


Governments protect the status quo, the routine injustices of imposed hierarchy, building prisons to segregate those who refuse to surrender their creative autonomy. They are the armed "enforcers," the "hit men," who demand obedience and payment of taxes to secure the "privilege" of acting "freely" within the walls they erect.

Governments serve POWER by restricting the range of permissible action to that which does not threaten the existing order.

Today POWER is primarily economic. It is systemic, not possessed by individuals, governments or mega-multi-national corporations, but a pervasive, disembodied, implosive dynamic of accumulation, dominion and control. Its field of illusion is the "competitive marketplace," and its modus operandi the transformation of desire into a malleable "demand" for the counterfeit currency of "commodities."

POWER attempts to appropriate, enslave, manipulate and seduce art into the service of banality, or quietly smother it in obscurity. But the creative dynamic will not be controlled. It is a dispersively expansive infectious agent which defies all dominion.


Existing in every truly creative act, from the scientific inversions of Ilya Prigogine, to the anonymous escapes of the "criminally insane" from institutions of imprisonment and torture, art permeates our lives. But this truth is suppressed because real art (as opposed to the vacant scribblings of monkeys or the synthetic confections hanging on corporate walls) is dangerous. It threatens the common illusions which support POWER, the "common sense" with which it intimidates, the hysterical psychosis of "sacrifice for the common good." Art screams "Nothing 'common' should escape attack. Accept no authority; pursue your desire."

Committing real art can get us arrested, even killed, but there is no life without it.

Art -- poetry, metaphor -- is at the very core of our existence. It will not be ignored, and it will not be surrendered to the merchants and taxidermists -- the foundations, museums, galleries and schools which preserve and honor hierarchy. Art so robust as to have survived entombment in such toxic institutional atmosphere belongs with the outlaws in brilliant, liberated streets, where the creative dynamic is free to expand without opposition, where it can breathe and propagate a contagious revolution of desire.

Art should be made by all, everywhere, but most emphatically in the streets.


September 1996, by the following participants in the SurreaList e-mail group:

Barrett John Erickson (US)
Pierre Petiot (NL)
Michael Betancourt (US)
William Dubin (US)
Alan Gullette (US)
Frank Antonsen (DK)
Stuart Inman (UK)
Carlos Martins (PT)