York City Council: Keep Streets Live - support street culture, don't strangle it!
My name is Jonny Walker. I am a 34 year old singer-songwriter and a professional street performer and musician. I am the founding director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign. We campaign nationally for open public spaces and policies that support and enhance street culture. Street performance has the capacity to transform the urban environment promoting a greater sense of community and well-being as well as fostering opportunities for serendipitous encounters. We want York CIty Council to scrap their current licensing scheme for buskers as it is unfair and unduly restrictive. We want them to get round the table with street performers, musicians, the Musician's Union and other interested parties, and draw together a new busking policy that celebrates street culture and does not prevent people from using public space for spontaneous grassroots expressions of art and culture. A similar campaign was succesful in Liverpool...
Other cities operate with busking schemes that are cooperative and include voluntary codes of conduct which are much cheaper and less burdensome to administer. We could point to Edinburgh, Chester, Bournemouth and Cambridge as cities that welcome buskers without auditioning them or charging them for a license in advance.
So what are we asking for?
1.) We want York City Council to scrap their restrictive busking policy and to replace it with a fairer and more open scheme that supports a vibrant and diverse street culture.
2.) Street performers, artists, musicians and professional bodies like the Musician's Union should be involved in drawing up the new policy. Firstly, because it directly affects them, and secondly, because their input will be valuable in drawing up a policy with an impact on the cultural and social life of the city. Any subsequent changes to the scheme should involve consultation between all parties.
3.) The new busking scheme should be open and easy to access. Buskers should not have to fill out forms in advance and wait for an audition before taking to the streets (Though the council may wish to collect information about performers for their own records once they have busked in the city). At present people sometimes have to wait for months for an audition and are often told that there are no badges available. The council clearly lacks the resources to administer and enforce their current policy properly. This acts as a barrier to spontaneity and also discriminates against acts that are visiting the area for a short period of time and only perform occasionally.
4.) The scheme should be based upon cooperation between all the shared users of the public spaces of the city, and should aim to create a sense of urban community and belonging. People who wish to complain about a busker should be encouraged to talk directly to the performer in a polite manner rather then calling the council or the police in the first instance. In their turn, buskers should be considerate and cooperative in their use of shared space and responsive to the reasonable requests of public officials.
5.) Issues that arise from street performing should be dealt with fairly and transparently. The council should not grant themselves additional powers above the law of the land when dealing with buskers, such as restricting access to public space and removing busker's badges without right of appeal or due process. Street performers provide a valuable addition to the urban landscape and deserve to be treated with respect. Buskers whose behaviour is unreasonable and inconsiderate will likely already be in breach of existing legislation such as the Public Order Act, the Environmental Health Act and the Highways Act. With the correct and proper application of existing law, there is no need for additional legislation.
6.) Musicians should be allowed to make CDs containing recordings of their own work available for voluntary contributions for no charge. If musicians wish to sell CDs the charge for a street trading consent should be reduced from it's current excessive level of £40 per day to a fairer and more proportionate amount no greater than £10 per day. This will enable musicians to share their work with a wider audience at a time when traditional music venues are closing, and provide a vital civic and cultural outlet, both for performers and their audience.
There is nothing in these requests that it unreasonable or unworkable. A new busking policy could be worked out in the space of a few weeks at little to no cost to the local authority. York City Council have a unique opportunity to create a policy that sends an unmistakable signal to the world that they support their street artists, performers and musicians. By working together in a creative and collaborative way, we can offset some of the damaging economic trends that threaten the future of our high streets and our public spaces. A vibrant grassroots cultural scene is vital to the life of the City, and it starts on the streets. Work with us not against us York City Council, and Keep Streets Live!
The Council have agreed to open up a dialogue with street performers and other parties to look at ways of improving their current policy. This petition will remain open until the outcome of that process is clear...
York City Council's license scheme is well-intentioned but has created a situation whereby people have been waiting for many months to get a permit and many unnecessary restrictions have been placed upon spontaneous expressions of grassroots culture.
These are hard times for all of us with local authority budgets under huge strain because of cuts from central government. We need to work together to ease the burdens on people and support street culture. Please work with street artists, musicians, and other bodies such as the Musician's Union to come up with a truly collaborative busking policy that works for the good of the City of York and is not unduly restrictive. The future of our shared public spaces depends upon creative collaboration between local authorities and grassroots culture.