Want to see something crazy? Try analysing the different ways that busking is managed in cities all over the world. From Munich’s daily auditions, to Singapore’s “busker boot camp” and Bratislava’s €1 per square meter per day busking licenses, the ways that governments manage performing in public spaces can be pretty weird. And, sometimes, wonderful; there are cities that really do try to make an effort to protect, promote and encourage their street performers.
So, we decided to do research into the busking licenses (or lack of) in 34 cities around the world.
The link to the research is at the bottom. And first, the research’s cover letter.
LET US KNOW IF YOU HAVE CORRECTIONS FOR BUSKING IN YOUR CITY!
This research is open source. Download it and share it with whomever you like. Also, we’re here to help, in case you want to discuss options in your city.
Street performers – known as ‘buskers’ in many English-speaking countries – have plied their trade on streets and in town squares for as long as there have been streets and town squares. Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome had buskers, as did Medieval Britain and Renaissance Italy.
In the 21st century, busking is still practised in every major city around the globe. But as our towns and cities develop, grow and evolve, the environment in which buskers ply their trade and earn a living is also changing.
There is growing interest in the idea that busking can help revitalise city centres, which have been damaged by recessions, out-of-town malls and Internet shopping. The placemaking approach to the management of public spaces advocates the idea that city centres should be pleasant and enjoyable places that people want to visit. Rather than being designed around cars or for purely commercial considerations, public spaces should be designed, managed and used for the wellbeing and good of the people. They should be places where people want to meet. There is evidence that busking can play a part in that approach.
This report asks how the health of busking can be protected into the future. We have researched how buskers feel about regulations in their cities, and how the busking licenses compare on paper, but a much larger study is needed to assess the actual impact of each type of legislation on the arts, culture, business, tourism and quality of life in cities.
In this report, you will find information on the ways in which 34 cities from around the globe manage busking.
In evaluating how encouraging policy is we rated factors such as whether they have mandatory busking licenses or auditions, the time and duration limitations, their amplification and equipment terms and whether busking is considered legal or illegal. We evaluated whether the city offered a point-of-contact specifically hired to deal with busking, and what support they offered street performers. We asked which local authority department, if any, was responsible for busking. Was it managed by the culture/arts department, the urban planning department, or was busking the remit of business licensing or noise ordinance?
Based on this evaluation, we have ranked 34 cities from the most encouraging to the least. The cities that have ranked higher in the evaluation present relaxed regulations that allow artists to freely express themselves in public space. The two Australian cities featured, Melbourne and Sydney, are good examples. Not only do they feature a relaxed managerial approach, they also involve buskers in the policy and decision-making process.
Furthermore, these cities promote busking as an attribute of their creative and cultural identity. While cities in Europe and US develop strategies and policies in order to build an image and branding as Creative Cities, Sydney and Melbourne have already gone there, and balance both the needs of buskers and the authorities.
It could be argued that cities with moderate regulations, but which also offer support and/or promotion to the busking community, should be considered as cities that encourage busking. Singapore, in some respects, is such a case: buskers have to go through an audition and (an otherwise unheard of and highly controversial) boot-camp session, but they are also offered promotion and management services from the authorities. There is a golden balance between regulating busking and giving back to the busking community. All of the parties involved benefit in cities that strike the right balance.
Cities that have scored around zero, like Sofia, are cities where there are busking licenses and regulations, but the enforcement of the law is relaxed. For these cities, the buskers have reported that as long as an artist respects some common knowledge rules (i.e. being sensitive about sound levels, not blocking the flow of the street etc.) the police will not act against them, even if they might be officially breaking the law. These examples highlight the importance of self-regulation when it comes to busking and how common sense and respect can allow everyone to enjoy the public realm, even if the policies look restrictive on paper.
The evaluation has indicated that cities that feature auditions and strict quality control are most likely to be discouraging for buskers. For example, Munich hosts daily auditions for busker licenses that are only valid for a day and offer no benefits in return. Additionally, cities with very strict punishments, the most extreme being imprisonment and in some cases community service, score very low.
It is of great interest, but perhaps not surprising, that cities that are considered to be busking hotspots present restrictive regulations. Cities like Amsterdam, Madrid, San Francisco, New Orleans, Vancouver and Rome, among others, are not encouraging on paper. We deduce that it is the popularity of these cities among buskers that has led to these cities displaying such a defensive reaction.
A few areas that have a reputation for being busking hotspots, such as New Orleans, the London Borough of Camden and Madrid, have recently put into practice particularly harsh regimes. It will be interesting to see whether they are still considered busking hotspots in a year, or go the way of Barcelona, where only the human statues still stand.
It is clear from our conversations with street performers that all busking regulation (if it is to be respected and adhered to) requires mutual respect. Also, dialogue and interaction between buskers and policy makers will work best if busking is approached, both in language and structure, as an asset to be encouraged rather than a problem to be solved. To get the best busking talent, cities must make the best buskers want to work there.
To achieve this, busking policies and guidelines should be developed in cooperation with the city’s busking community. Properly implemented, a best practices guide or code of conduct for busking can be hugely rewarding for all concerned. Buskers can ply their trade, express themselves, perform their art and earn a living, all with the support and encouragement of the city or town in which they work.
When maintaining a happy and self-regulating busking scene, the local authority helps to provide a thriving and culturally rich urban environment for their residents and visitors. Astute authorities will leverage their city’s reputation as a busking hotspot in order to boost their cultural capital.
Most importantly, the people who live and work in the city, as well as tourists and other visitors, have the benefit of experiencing a dynamic and artistic street life. A common complaint is that failing city centres are moribund while commercially successful ones are becoming homogenised. A vibrant street performing scene can draw people into city centres and encourage them to spend time there. A lively and diverse busking scene will also be unique to that city. It can demonstrate the culture or character of that city and differentiate it from its competitors.
2017_TheBeatoftheStreetReport_FINAL (right-click to download the research in pdf form)