Street entertainers say new busking bylaw underperforms

Between December 2008 and April 2009, Nanaimo street entertainers and city staff and council members, along with other stakeholders, met several times to create a bylaw that would create more busking spaces and relax strict requirements for buskers.

Street musician Roddy Davis performs on the Harbourfront Walkway above the Nanaimo Boat Basin. City council created the Street Entertainers Regulation Bylaw after several meetings with stakeholders.

Street musician Roddy Davis performs on the Harbourfront Walkway above the Nanaimo Boat Basin. City council created the Street Entertainers Regulation Bylaw after several meetings with stakeholders.

Nanaimo city council and staff performed a song and dance in creating a bylaw to appeal to street entertainers, but buskers say their efforts have fallen flat.

Between December 2008 and April 2009, street entertainers and city staff and council members, along with other stakeholders, met several times to create a bylaw that would create more busking spaces in Nanaimo and relax strict requirements for buskers.

A public forum hosted in March by the city was attended by council, street entertainers, the business community, city staff and citizens to help generate a new bylaw for buskers.

On Monday, the Street Entertainers Regulation Bylaw passed its first three readings with little fanfare from buskers.

“Prize spots have been taken away, four hours has been reduced to two. I find it all pretty disheartening to find out the busking community had their locations shrunk,” said Marty Steele, a veteran busker of 15 years. “Eighty-five per cent of the spots aren’t viable for buskers. Downtown and along the harbour is where it’s at and the competition for those spots is intense.”

Tim Lander, another veteran street entertainer, said he took exception to the term ‘busker’ among other issues he has with the bylaw.

“You call us buskers, but buskers is a Spanish work meaning ‘to look for’. It means to go out and look for money, like to beg. It’s more applicable to spare change artists than street musicians. I’m a street musician and I’ve never begged in my life. I’ve done a lot of other things, but I’ve never begged.”

He added that the best way to improve the atmosphere for street performers in Nanaimo is to allow informal jam sessions in public places for the benefit of tourists and passersby.

“If you want to improve the quality of the music you have to let the musicians come together and perform together,” said Lander. “We give an awful lot to the city and I think we should be treated with a little more respect.”

Coun. Fred Pattje said the new bylaw does provide respect as well as more opportunities for street performers to strut their stuff.

He also addressed Steele’s other concerns of the potential for high fine amounts and audition requirements.

“We’ve addressed many of the issues that have been discussed in a serious way,” said Pattje, a member of the Safer Nanaimo Working Group. “Increase the number of available spots, we’ve done that. Open more spots in the Old City Quarter, we’ve done that. Allow travelling musicians to play in the city without a licence, we haven’t done that. Open more spots in Diana Krall Plaza, we’ve done that. Allow more street entertainment when cruise ships are in, I think we’ve addressed that. Open spots by the convention centre, we’ve done that. Do not colour code the spots [for allowing day-specific use], we’ve done that. Open more spots along the seawall, I think we’ve done that. Auditions have been cancelled, there are no longer requirements for auditions strictly because of freedom of expression concerns. A lot of concerns being expressed are already taken care of.”

According to the bylaw, most fines for various street performing infractions like operating without a licence and profanity fall within the $50 to $75 range. Under the Community Charter, street performers can be fined as much as $10,000 under the order of a judge.

Other changes include annual permit fees being raised from $20 to $25, and street performers can now begin performing whenever they desire instead of on even hours, though they are still limited to two hours at any one location.

City staff and council had expected the bylaw would relieve the concerns the busking community has been complaining of for several years, though final adoption is still expected in September.

According to bylaw services, there are currently 43 licensed buskers in Nanaimo, with a core group of 10 regulars.

“We were as high as 50 last year, but we always have that core group of 10,” said Randy Churchill, manager of bylaw, regulation and safety. “Some people try it and don’t like it, or some only do it in the summer so our numbers fluctuate a little bit.”