‘Living Statue’ petitions to regain park perch

Johan Figueroa González was back in Washington Square Park last Saturday pitching his petition effort to let him perform on the park’s Arch once again. Photos by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Washington Square Park’s “Living Statue” isn’t giving up on his Arch performances quite yet. After his arrest for climbing onto the park Arch in mid-April, Johan Figueroa González launched a petition on Change.org asking Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to help him “get back to Washington Square Arch.” The peformer González returned to the park in full makeup on Saturday afternoon, speaking with passersby about his petition.

“I believe that I need to be back to The Arch because my performance is unique,” Figueroa González wrote in the petition. “I am part of the spirit of New York City. This is a place for everyone, including any type of artist who performs with love and passion.”

His petition calls on city officials to make an exception to the rule against climbing on monuments and let him climb 2 feet above the ground. As of Monday evening, his online petition had already received 2,744 signatures.

“I want to grow old as a living statue on the Arch,” he wrote. “The future generations of New Yorkers and visitors deserve that unique experience while walking in the most diverse city in the world, and I am sure I also deserve to give that performance.”

Saturday afternoon, Figueroa González returned to the park publicizing his petition. He stood in front of the Arch with information about his petition, as well as articles about him from The Villager and The New York Times and a description from Lonely Planet. In the wake of his recent arrest, rather then performing this time, he spent the afternoon telling parkgoers what had happened and what they might be able to do to help show the city’s politicians why he should have a special permit to perform on the Arch.

On the ground in front of the performer were articles by The Villager about his arrest and a profile about him from last year in The New York Times and a Lonely Planet feature.

“I’ve always been a big fan of him since I saw him two years ago,” said Bennett Gershwin, a first-year film student at New York University. “He was one of the initial things that made me fall in love with New York City.”

Gershwin was at the Arch the day of Figueroa González’s arrest and signed the petition in support of his return. There’s no question that the Arch, Gershwin said, is Figueroa González’s spot in the park.

“I think he has more than a right to be there,” he added. “Clearly, he’s not doing any harm.”

The New York City Police Department, however, disagrees. On Fri., April 13, police arrested the artist for disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and criminal trespass, all misdemeanors. On Mon., April 16, he was arraigned on only the first and third charges. He received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or A.C.D. The charges are expected to be dismissed if he is not arrested again in six months.

Figueroa González counts some 70 performances of his climbing on the Arch last year, which begs the question why officers would arrest him in his first turn up on the Arch this year. Some artists’ advocates believe it is related to an ongoing court case, or possibly the Washington Square Park Conservancy’s efforts to crack down on park programming, as The Villager reported on last week. For his part, Figueroa González believes that graffiti that was recently spray-painted on the arch — “F— U” and “I DON’T NEED YOU” in large black letters — sparked increased security around the historic marble monument.

Gershwin noted that after the graffiti incident, there was a police car parked in front of the Arch. Another frequent parkgoer — the increasingly notorious serial farter — also added that extra security seemed to spike just after the graffiti incident. The graffiti was still visible on the Arch, though faded from a cleaning effort, last Saturday afternoon.

The specific regulation cited as the reason for Figueroa González’s arrest is in Section 1-04 of the Parks Depatment rules, which restricts parkgoers from climbing on structures not intended for climbing purposes in a manner that could damage the structure.

“The landmark Arch is made of fragile marble and such is susceptible to damage through physical interaction,” a Parks spokesperson said last week. “People are encouraged to look at — not touch — the Arch, to ensure its preservation and structural integrity.”

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