AMPLIFYING OUR STREETS
By Two Way Street Editorial Team
Per § 13-3-1-4(H) of the City of Albuquerque’s Code of Ordinances, “solicitations by any individual or group engaging in a street performance as defined at §12-2-28(C) ROA 1994” are exempt from § 13-3-1-3, requiring any person who wishes to conduct any business solicitation in any location to register their business with the City of Albuquerque and possess a valid solicitation permit of the appropriate type.
After the Safety in Public Spaces Ordinance (which established the standards outlined in §12-2-28) was repealed from the City of Albuquerque’s Criminal Code in November 2017 (per O-17-52), “street performance” is no longer defined.
So if “street performance” is not even defined in the City of Albuquerque’s Criminal Code anymore, why would Two Way Street advocate for this street-level activity to be defined again? Based upon Two Way Street’s conversations with local street performers like Miles Anderson, law enforcement rarely, if ever, approaches them about the perceived impact of their set up and music – so why would Two Way Street want to initiate further conversation about regulation?
The intention of this article is not to define street performance for its potential negative impacts on the surrounding community, but to rather celebrate the positive impact that we know street performance is already having on our streets and to identify strategies for amplifying that impact.
Like all other forms of commerce that take place at the street level, street performers need the right built, business, and regulatory environments in order to make their craft a viable occupation for making a living. Sanji, a local group of musicians who not only perform in various locations within the public right-of-way, but who also host instrument-building workshops, has been working closely with Two Way Street staff to identify local strategies for nurturing these three environments.
“When we are attending events like ABQartwalk, we not only need to be performing, but we also need to be talking with folks about the City’s larger effort to support street performers in Albuquerque,” said Anderson. Anderson is one of Sanji’s musicians who plays both the drums and the n’goni (a handcrafted string instrument originating in West Africa and made out of scraps of gourds). While Anderson has grown up playing music that is local to New Mexico, his musical talent and urge to travel compelled him to integrate new instruments and beats into his music routine. For Anderson, “Busking is about bringing music where it is needed most…schools, in the outdoors, the grocery store, old folks homes, on the streets. We believe the audience is just as integral a part of a musical experience as the musician.”
At the same time that Anderson believes that creating music should be a collaborative effort, he also expressed concerns about having his band always opening their arms to passerbys. “We contribute our appreciation of inclusivity to Albuquerque’s music scene and want to promote the idea that anyone can play, but at the same time this might be our downfall. There is a certain amount of freedom associated with busking that you won’t find playing inside a prive establishment. This freedom of expression can be one of the best aspects of street performance, but it can also be one of the worst if not regulated appropriately. People need to have the place and the freedom to express themselves, but they also need to be sure to do so in a way that does not disrupt the public.”
As much as Two Way Street, Sanji, and other local stakeholders believe in concepts like self-regulation and community policing, Anderson admitted that there are times when law enforcement absolutely needs to get involved. When talking about his experiences playing in the Downtown area, Anderson said, “The past couple of times we played Downtown, we had some people come right up to where we are playing and start asking us if we wanted to smoke meth. While the City and other event organizers might see First Fridays as an opportunity to bring a completely different demographic to the Downtown area that includes couples and families, we have to be realistic and recognize the fact that an addict probably sees these events as the time to scrape up enough money to get their fix.”
Based upon this response, Two Way Street’s team came to a conclusion about ABQartwalk and the One Albuquerque Engage initiative: as much as organizers would like to believe that placing vendors and street performers on the public right of way decreases crime, the amount and kind of activity that it brings to the streets can also be problematic if not monitored and/or regulated appropriately. This is obviously easier said than done, but as part of Two Way Street’s collaboration with One Albuquerque Engage, we want to propose strategies for better distinguishing individuals who are trying to earn supplemental income to improve the quality of living for their neighbors from those who are earning it to pursue their own satisfaction and self-interests.
When researching strategies employed by other cities trying to support their street performer communities, Two Way Street found out that there have been a variety of other cities that have developed task forces and other advisory committees to help negotiate terms between street performers, business owners, residents, and other impacted stakeholders. A few of these cities include Asheville, North Carolina and Ocean City, Maryland.
“I really like what Asheville has done in creating a busker collective, establishing more of a culture around it, and providing more education surrounding laws on the street, but I also don’t like the fact that some of these task forces end up making recommendations that, along with improving public education, end up tightening up enforcement on busking in particular locations.” Two Way Street understands where Anderson is coming from, but would also like to emphasize that Asheville and Albuquerque are in very different situations: while Asheville is trying to regulate congestion caused by street performance, Albuquerque is trying to create activity and congestion to begin with. “I would say that I only know about 10 regular buskers/street performers in town with lots of others just coming out from time to time to have some fun. It’s a pretty small and peaceful core group of folks, really – none of whom are bad apples causing trouble.”
As small of a street performer community that might exist in Albuquerque, Two Way Street would like to assert that even though the primary goal of assembling task forces is to bring a diverse group of stakeholders into one room to explore and recommend policy, one of the most beneficial outcomes of assembling task forces is cultivating trust, capacity, and communcation between these various stakeholders. While task forces assembled in cities like Asheville are charged with addressing the complaint-driven aspects of street performance, assembling task forces is also a great opportunity to highlight some of the benefits of street performance that would normally be overlooked. “There is a ripple effect with street performance that is sometimes hard to see,” said Anderson. “And if we can find ways to capture that impact like Asheville did that would be awesome.”
Out of all the different ways that cities have either regulated or celebrated street performance, one of the biggest issues that Anderson has with street-level regulation that he hopes isn’t ever adopted by the City of Albuquerque is restricting street performers from playing in the later part of the evening. “I understand the concern from nearby businesses and residents with music being too loud, but night time is when there is the most foot traffic and when we get most of our sales. I’m sure there is some sort of compromise that we can all have where we might play more acoustic during the evenings. Hopefully creating a task force here in Albuquerque could help us negotiate those terms.”
As much as Anderson believes that street performance should be an autonomous endeavor and that his gift to the streets should be as unregulated as possible, Anderson has learned over time that maintaining strong communication is really the key to addressing a lot of these issues.
“More recently, we are trying not to be defensive about not being able to play at certain places and we have been showing more interest in getting a permit. As a result, city employees have been much more understanding of letting us play where we want. This is exactly what happened to us at the Balloon Fiesta when we decided to set up right outside where the line was forming in order to catch the crowd. City staff lightly requested for us to get a permit at our nearest convenience, but they did not kick us out.”
But as much as relationships are growing and the culture is changing surrounding street performance, Anderson reminded Two Way Street that it is just as important for the City to be able to support street performers with adequate infrastructure for bringing their services to the market. “One of the biggest issues we have been experiencing in the Downtown area is having all of the outlets along Central Ave. broken all the time. Small things like that are sometimes what keep traveling buskers from staying in a city or moving along to the next.”
When asking whether Albuquerque’s street performer community is comprised more of local or traveling musicians and what their goals and aspirations are like, Anderson responded by saying, “The end goal of a busker varies and that is the beauty of it. Busking is just as much for the guy coming through town who doesn’t want to panhandle as it is for the guy who wants to become a full-time musician. But nobody wants to go busk in a city that bans it or puts a bad name to it.”
Anderson also emphasized that having access to good places to store equipment would also support and attract street performers. “I think that it would be awesome to have a simple, small space to store my stuff. Places like Chroma Gallery and another spot near Sunport Pool are places that are already being utilized but could be used more by local musicians on the up and up.”
When thinking about ways for creating opportunities for street performers to bring their talent inside brick and mortar businesses (especially during the Holiday Season), Anderson said that Sanji has had limited contact with local mom and pop businesses, but that having an outside entity like Two Way Street available to help establish those connections would be really valuable. He also said that establishing good relationships with businesses leads to more than just being able to play outside of their business. “We have recently had a few businesses hit us up just to play outside of their storefront – sometimes they can’t pay us, but you can get free food or work out some other type of exchange.” Two Way Street has already created a “Storefront Agreement” for its street vendors (modeled after Denver Voice’s agreement), but hopes to develop a similar type of agreement to give to street performers like Sanji.
But as much as event coordinators and promoters like Two Way Street want to support local emerging talent, Anderson emphasized that street performers, in particular, often feel the need to maintain their autonomy. “While we really appreciate the support of local music promoters and managers, we are trying to get used to having folks manage our locations for events. We appreciate folks helping promote when and where we might play, but at the same time we want to have our freedom to pop up wherever we would like.”
Sanji has recently been spending a great deal of effort identifying other ideal locations for performing around the city. “Rather than trying to hit places like Downtown that already have a lot of live music going on inside businesses, what we need to start doing is identifying other types of events, venues, and situations that would benefit from having buskers there,” said Anderson. “For example, parks are public spaces where people are always walking around at their leisure and are spaces that would benefit from having musicians present.” In conjunction with all of the food truck events that neighborhood associations are bringing to parks, Two Way Street recommended for Sanji to connect with neighborhood association representatives to inquire about opportunities for breathing life into their events. Two Way Street also felt that this would be a great opportunity to bridge the gap between local entertainment and civic engagement.
As local event organizers like Two Way Street, One Albuquerque, Enchanted Pop Up, and Mariposa Music get close to completing the One Albuquerque: Engage pilot initiative, it is critical for us to create feedback loops where we hear what is working and what is not working for street vendors, street performers, and brick and mortar businesses. Two Way Street plans to continue to use our interviews with local subject matter experts and event participants like Anderson to continue developing that feedback loop. Given all the feedback provided and insights shared by Anderson during his interview, Two Way Street has identified the following key takeaways and action items:
- After the One Albuquerque: Engage initiative is completed at the end of December 2018, Two Way Street would like to match local street performers with local event organizers to coordinate cohesive public testimony advocating for continued funding and support from the City Council to further promote and expand our local street performer community. Part of this effort could be supported with the creation of a brochure much like Asheville, North Carolina’s where Two Way Street outlines current regulation surrounding street performance, rights that performers have in occupying the public right-of-way, and a few policy recommendations. This is intended to be an informational material for both the City Council as well as individuals attending the meeting.
- Two Way Street would like to encourage event organizers to focus more of their energy on promoting street performance rather than managing it, considering the fact that the performers themselves are experts on identifying key locations for playing. Once street performers have been better exposed to the community-at-large, they would greatly appreciate event organizers connecting them with private establishments to play at.
- Since it is difficult to evaluate placemaking initiatives and to measure the true economic and social impacts of street performance, it would be important for the City of Aluquerque to research other cities that have identified effective metrics for measuing these impacts and outcomes
- Two Way Street would like to develop a Storefront Agreement for street performers to request business owners for access to play music outside of their storefront.
- Two Way Street would like to find street performers who are interested in getting involved with the upcoming Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit (CPLS) in February 2019.