If you apply for grant funding, you usually have to choose who benefits from your activities. We tend to put ‘artists’, and choose our category as ‘arts and entertainment’, and apply exclusively for ‘arts grants’.

But, that’s a woeful underrepresentation of who wins when a city has a thriving busking ecosystem. It’s not just the buskers themselves, but also the public, tourists, local businesses and arts industries in general.

Here’s a video summing up these points. It’s a little wishy-washy for my tastes, but does include some facts and figures you’ve not heard before. Those might be useful for you, next time you’re trying to explain to a local business improvement district why banning busking is such a mistake.


Busking has always taken place in the busiest parts of town: markets, plazas, shopping districts and so on.

It has always been loud and very visible. It is the source of multiple art forms, and it has migrated those art forms all over the world. It is the way the vast majority of live performance is consumed. It entirely transforms places within cities. It generates tourism. It generates mobs of hundreds of cheering, laughing and clapping spectators. It is a discipline that has spawned innumerable household names. And it has been around, in almost every town and city on the entire planet, for at least four to six thousand years.

Considering the above, you’d expect there to be a whole bunch of research on busking. But there isn’t. The world’s anthropologists, musicologists, economists, urbanists, art historians and all the other academics have collectively decided to ignore it.

Thus, busking exists, incomprehensibly, in a data black hole.

What little is known about street performance I’ll talk about here. But it’s only recently that academics around the world are starting to realise that busking might just be worth a PhD or two.

So, first let’s cover the few statistical facts that we do know.

A touring street performer following the seasons, doing a few shows per day in the world’s most popular tourism hotspots might have a daily audience of about a thousand people. If they work four days a week, ten months of the year, that single busker will have an annual audience of about 175,000 people.

What about a city? Well, several million people a year will walk past a single busking pitch in Covent Garden. There are eight to ten pitches in Covent Garden, several more in Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square. Then dozens of other pitches spread out across central London, and an untold number in the outer boroughs.

That’s above ground. According to the London Underground, buskers on the tube’s thirty nine pitches have a unique audience of a couple of million people a day. That’s a billion people a year. Taken together, and you start to realise that it’s street performance that makes London a ‘Music City’, more than its music studios, record label headquarters or its indoor music venues.

Another big part of the busking world is its festivals. Take the Edinburgh Fringe, which happens over three weeks every August. Approximately three fifths of survey respondents at the Fringe say that the street performers are either the main reason or one of the main reasons for attending. As the Fringe is worth about a billion pounds in indirect spending in Scotland, and it costs less than £200,000 to manage the street part of the festival, the return on investment of the Fringe’s busking program is not three to one or thirty to one, but thousands to one.

Now onto some research.

One study showed that buskers make people feel more welcome in an area. Another showed that buskers make people think an area is safer and more inviting. Another, that people will travel further to go to a mall, even driving past other malls, if it means they’ll get to watch a street performer when they arrive.

We did a study showing that the presence of street performers in TripAdvisor reviews eliminates the chance of that review being one or two stars. I’ve also done thousands of micro studies over the last thirty years that have shown buskers make people clap, smile and even cry, if they’re good enough.

And yet, they get no credit. As an example, when I first was introduced to the concept of ‘placemaking’ about a decade ago, I browsed through the website of the Project for Public Spaces. I later arranged a meeting with a staff member, and told him “your website is absolutely full of pictures of buskers, but you never mention them.” He responded along the lines of—and I’m paraphrasing—“I guess we’ve always loved street performers, but never realised.”

It’s time to realise. Although we all have fond memories of street performers, we don’t think of just how much they do for our cities. It’s why councils, business improvement districts, residents associations and other groups are free to ban or restrict busking with impunity.

Someone needs to stick up for street performers, not just for their benefit but for ours too. And we need to do it now, before it’s too late.


The above is part of a trio of videos I’ve made on the importance of street performance and why we work within this field. See the other videos here:


Video 1: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in busking

Video 2: The benefits that busking provides

Video 3: Why busking is at risk