Councillor Dan Keenan requested staff to draft a report on the creation of a street performance policy and now the city is looking for public input.
City council first considered Keenan’s request August of last year. Staff recently drafted the report and is now encouraged feedback from the public until April 9.
“Well, you know what, I’m not even looking to regulate it per say as make sure the people know that they understand the perimeters,” said Keenan over the phone.
“The policy is actually encouraging them to come. I think we’ll have to have some work after the public input and find that balance.”
Keenan’s concern came from differentiating between street performers and panhandlers. While he doesn’t claim to have the answer, he said it’s important not to encourage the “aggressive panhandling” downtown.
This policy hits close to home for local photographer and student at the NB College of Craft and Design. Luke Perrin said many of his friends rely on being able to set up downtown and perform, walking away with a little extra money.
“The by-law is a method of controlling where and when people can create and display their work as opposed to working with the artists to create safe spaces,” said Perrin. “As taxpayers, contributors, and members of this community, I feel that art should not be limited to confines of the walls of the gallery.”
The proposed policy puts restrictions on where and how the performers can express their art. First, a street performer must have an identification card. The card will cost $25 dollars for every two years of busking and must be displayed during the performance.
“Street performers may not advertise performances with signs or banners; Street performers may not sell any products or CD’s as a part of their act,” reads the proposed policy.
As for donations, the policy states a performer can accept money but can’t solicit, meaning asking for or requesting payment.
Perrin has recently begun gathering local street performers for a new photo series, helping to raise awareness about the proposed policy. He said his photographs will capture the group of working street artists and how these artists help showcase the vibrancy of the city.
Perrin mentions the familiar face to the city’s downtown streets. Muppet, a local poet, offers his poems for a penny to everyday passer byers. He’s become a staple at the Boyce Farmers Market and walking up and down King or Queen Street on a sunny day.
“Penny for a poem? Where is the famed Muppet to go to read his poetry aloud for all of the community to hear? Just break for a moment and talk to those who will be affected most by these new propositions of identification and registration fees.”
This is where the distinction between street performance and panhandling can get tricky. Muppet, who only accepts pennies for one of his poems, is performing. But he is also soliciting.
Perrin is worried the stage will be taken away from the people shaping the city’s culture.
“Let’s be clear here, the city wants to clear the streets of undesirables in the downtown sector. Instead of using community based programs to help get these people off the streets, let’s just restrict even further what little space they have available for projecting their voice.”
According to Keenan, the proposed policy does the opposite of restricting performers.
“My goal out of this whole thing is to make our downtown as vibrant as we can. That’s a huge component, having people performing, it adds to the ambient,” said Keenan.
“I know when I’m down there, I love it if there’s someone on the street corner playing an instrument or singing and that’s really my goal… Is to encourage.”
For more information on the proposed policy, visit www.fredericton.ca/en/citygovernment/BuskerPolicy.asp and to take part in Luke Perrin’s photo series, email [email protected].