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Musicians Form Union For Freedom To Play In Subway

July 8, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ Elliott Gibbons says he tried to earn money and spread holiday cheer last Christmas by playing classical guitar in subway stations, until some transit authority Grinches threw him out.

The same thing happened to other musicians, and they banded together to do something about it. In January, Gibbons helped form the Subways Artists Guild. About 30 performers belong, said John Bigelow, a co-founder and musician.

″We were being kicked out of the subway during the winter and Christmas, which is the best time to play,″ Gibbons said Tuesday.

Commuters were in the mood for music, he said, but the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority thought differently. The MBTA said musicians playing in stations that are crowded or being renovated can interfere with the trains.

″It was very tense. There was just no other way we could survive,″ said Gibbons, who used to play in New York City’s Central Park until he moved to Boston in November.

Playing classical guitar at the Harvard, Porter and Park Street stations is the sole source of income for Gibbons, says the 38-year-old musician. His wife is due to have a baby in October.

The guild has been meeting with the MBTA and trying to find a way musicians and other artists can perform without disrupting service. ″Actually, the MBTA, once we got organized, was really (cooperative),″ Gibbons said.

″We’ve been discussing a program that would work for the musicians and the MBTA - to determine what the musicians’ needs are and balance that with the needs of the (authority),″ said MBTA spokesman Peter Dimond.

One step the guild and MBTA have agreed on is a list of subway stations where the musicians could play, Dimond said. Ten stations undergoing platform lengthening and other renovation are off-limits to the performers until construction is completed, he said.

Gibbons said the two groups also have agreed to let the performers decide who plays where by flipping coins.

While discussions continue, the performers are allowed to play at most stations, Dimond said. Some of them still may be ejected by MBTA officials from time to time, but ″I haven’t heard of that for a few months now,″ he said.

″Each MBTA official in each station is authorized to ensure that passenger flow is not interrupted″ and the noise level of the music doesn’t interfere with station announcements, Dimond said.

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