Artist threatened with arrest for public art

Posted at: 04/05/2013 5:33 PM
Updated at: 04/05/2013 5:43 PM
By: Abigail Bleck

ALBANY--If the sidewalk drawing at Quail and Hudson looks unfinished, it's because it is.  In the middle of working on it Thursday evening, Albany police officers threatened to arrest artist Emily Epstein if she didn't stop immediately.

"They asked for my ID, they asked for my information," recalls Epstein.

Basically, alleges Epstein, they treated her like a criminal saying, "This type of thing is perpetuating the 'Broken Window Theory' in this neighborhood.  They stopped me because I was doing something out of the norm and this is considered vandalism," adds Epstein.

But Friday a spokesman for both the Mayor and the police department admit there is no city ordinance for sidewalk chalk. 

Signs of actual vandalism are evident all around Epstein's artwork.  A bike rack, a street sign and even buildings have been tagged with permanent paint or marker.  Something Epstein's chalk...is not.

"It's water soluble chalk, it will wash away with the rain.  In fact I want it to wash away with the rain," laughs Epstein.

Before Epstein started Thursday, she says a worker inside the Quail Street business the sidewalk drawing is in front of gave Epstein his blessing.  And the owner at the same shop told police Thursday evening it didn't bother him, either.

Meantime, Epstein happily returned to her sidewalk work Friday.  Her wish now is that members of the Albany Police Department do the same.

"In this neighborhood I know there are drugs.  There is underage drinking, there are guys taking advantage of women.  People are littering.  This is the least of the problems in this neighborhood."

Epstein was actually arrested for sidewalk chalk art in Philadelphia in 2010.  A judge found her not guilty.  She later sued the City of Philadelphia, and won.