Street performers in downtown Pensacola appear to be getting a new rulebook on plying their art.
Street performers, called “buskers,” play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations.
“It looks to me, that over the course of over the last 450 some-odd years, there’s been street performance regularly downtown; and we want to preserve that, because that’s authentic to Pensacola,” said DIB Executive Director Curt Morse.
The aim of the guidelines, Morse emphasizes they are not “rules,” is to preserve the faithfulness of street performances within the Board’s district, which covers 44 blocks. Another challenge is to separate buskers from panhandlers, in the city’s pending ordinance against the latter.
“Under this particular style of ordinance, it would eliminate street performers,” Morse said. “Almost every street performer I’ve talked to, they do not like to be referred to as ‘panhandlers.’ We need to develop this program, by which street performers can perform.”
The guidelines were developed after studying street performance in a number of cities, most notably Asheville, North Carolina. Downtown performers, businesses and homeless advocates were also consulted in forming the guidelines.
Among the list of do’s and don’ts for the sidewalk gigs: only one audible performance at a single time within 120 feet of the location marked for busking; non-audible performances a minimum of 40 feet from an audible performance in the High Impact Area. Also, take turns, two hours at a time.
“You have certain areas where it’s acceptable, and if it’s acceptable there this is how we act when we’re in that area,” said Morse. “We don’t camp on it and spend all day playing harmonica, when there’s someone that would really like to play their saxophone for a while, or strum a guitar. So, be mindful and respectful of those other performers.”
Since other artists are nearby, keep the amps and drums at a reasonable volume. And, Morse says, keep your “footprint” small – just bring what you need.
“We don’t need a 10-piece orchestra out there, so be mindful making sure there’s plenty of room for pedestrians to continue walking by if they don’t want to top and enjoy your performance,” Morse said.
Buskers also need to watch their crowd size: six feet of sidewalk space is required for passers-by. Also, introduce themselves to their fellow buskers and nearby businesses. This will help cut down the number of complaints heard by the DIB.
Some of the most common complaints are: performances that are too loud, playing repetitive songs, and clearly not having enough talent to draw a small crowd. During the day, they’re urged to be mindful of office workers, and of residents at night.
The guidelines, says DIB chief Curt Morse, will be the subject of more discussions with street performers in the coming weeks.
“And then let’s identify some high-traffic areas where you can perform and have the greatest opportunity for a good, responsive audience,” said DIB Chief Curt Morse. “Let’s go to the city and say, ‘these are the spaces we’d like to have, and do we need to get a license to use that space?’”
The anti-panhandling ordinance proposal, sponsored by Mayor Ashton Hayward and City Council President Brian Spencer, is set for a vote next Thursday. Buskers are hoping the final version will exclude them.