This is the first in a three-part series on positive/negative arguments about buskers and how to deal with them. Part two is on how to calmly deal with negative arguments on busking, and part three is on why busking is good for tourism.




“Does the mime carry a blank protest sign?”

This is one of the funnier comments on a recent article about the proposed boycott of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace pitch by disgruntled street performers.

Other comments included:

“No one goes there hoping to see them. Few people even know of their existence. Slightly more people would be content if they just went away.”

“Oh no, you mean if we go to Faneuil Hall we won’t get to see dozens of people playing the tambourine and begging for change?”

Things were worse at the Boston Globe:

“So what. Yawn…”

“Don’t go away mad. Just go away.”

“Like they actually declare their real income, tax cheats all.”

“How much would it cost to keep this strike going indefinitely?”

“Panhandlers going on strike? Goody! If you want to get paid for performing, do what every other musician, dancer, artist, etc does….work your way up the ranks as everyone else does….Giving them your pennies is not different than giving the homeless your change that open the door for you at 7-11, or those holding up signs that beg for your cash.”

It looked like people were against the Faneuil Hall Marketplace buskers. But why? What were they complaining about?

We looked into it.

First of all, here’s what the buskers were protesting about

Management at Faneuil Hall initially proposed the following regulations. Buskers…

  • would have to pay a $2,500 annual license fee (the biggest we’ve ever heard of)
  • must keep the noise below 70db (less than ambient noise levels)
  • can only use one shared hat line (to be decided by management, and used by all performers)
  • can’t mention any specific denominations
  • must perform in temperatures over 60º (even up to 95º or more)
  • must finish their show once they’ve started (they can’t stop if no audience builds).
  • can’t miss their slots
  • will be expelled from the program if they break the above rules twice.

It’s the most restrictive and arbitrary license we’ve ever heard of. And ludicrous! Who’d decide what the hat line should be?

Songwriters with head colds or hand cramps would have to sing till their set was over. And sunblind, sweaty-handed jugglers would risk damage to just about everyone within a few hundred feet.

Faneuil Hall buskers would effectively become the unpaid employees of the owners, beholden to their whims.

And they’d have to pay an extortionate amount for the privilege.

It’s the kind of relationship that court jesters used to have with kings – perform when we tell you to, make sure we like it and be grateful if we allow you back tomorrow.

And this, next to a building nicknamed “the Cradle of Liberty”.

The Articles

Management dropped a couple of features in their proposed license (the fee and the single hat line), but kept many of its most offensive features, like the threats of expulsion for minor infractions and deciding what conditions the buskers must perform in.

Management was being as controlling as employers but on PUBLIC property, without pay.

So, we published an open letter to Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corporation, which was picked up by, the Boston Globe and BostInno. Our letter had a simple narrative that most people would appreciate: “Artists being squeezed by a massive corporation on public property!”

But, as you’ll see, the response wasn’t great. Below is a summary of the arguments.

The comments

I’ve put the number of times each of these arguments came up. In case you think my maths is wrong, several negative comments included more than one argument, so the total number of negative arguments is greater than the total number of negative comments.

Total number of comments: 55Seaport-Buskers

Negative: 31
Positive: 16
Neither for nor against: 8


Negative arguments: 38

Nobody cares about buskers: 7
Buskers are lazy (i.e. akin to beggars): 7
Buskers don’t pay their taxes: 3
Buskers are annoying: 16
Buskers are just commercial entities: 3
Buskers are talentless: 2

Positive arguments: 16

Buskers are artists, arts should be defended (arts): 3
Buskers are good for tourism (tourism): 3
Buskers do pay their taxes: 1
Buskers are entertaining/great (entertaining): 4
Overregulation is bad (freedom): 2
Buskers are a local cultural thing (Boston): 3

It’s just online comments. They don’t matter.

That’s true. But we have to defend street performers properly to the people who are most vocally against them. Otherwise, it will appear that twice as many people are against buskers than for them.

And how to argue online?

With rational, reasoned discourse. To see that, check out our post on the arguments against buskers and how to deal with them. Or, click here to read our post about why buskers are great for tourism.

What do you think? Are people generally negative about buskers? Is there a disconnect from your daily experience to those you have online? Let us know in the comments!