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"Balloon Man" John Dukeminier does his thing last Friday afternoon.
Enrique Limón

Buskers vs. Vendors

Can’t we all just get along?

April 15, 2014, 12:00 am

Let’s talk about ridiculous, Santa Fe; about how former City Councilor Chris Calvert sponsored a bill on his way out spurred by persnickety (I’ve been waiting like, two years to use that word) Plaza vendors that would provide even stricter guidelines by which street musicians (henceforth referred to as buskers) would have to operate

As it stands, Santa Fe’s busking ordinance requires that any street performer must be licensed by the city. In addition to the license, buskers must be aware of volume, content, proximity to businesses and/or other performers and the potential for congestion in certain pedestrian areas. These are mostly common sense issues that have been followed closely by the bulk of those who busk, but a number of downtown merchants feel performers are negatively impacting their businesses and wish to take the ordinance even further to allow for such considerations as the criminalization of various busking activities, further space between performers and restrictions on buskers’ right to sell their art.

"Vendors are dissatisfied with their own ordinance and are using the buskers to complain about that dissatisfaction"

According to an informal poll of Plaza business owners compiled by food vendor Andrea Caldera, those concerned with the impact of buskers wished to allow such ridiculous measures as permitting musicians to only obtain the licenses in January, requiring loading zone permits, background checks and to not allow traveling musicians to apply for licensure. 

This isn’t to say that everything suggested by the businesses were outrageous (many other proposed addendums are, in fact, already covered), but it’s pretty insane to ask so much of people who just want to strum out a few tunes outdoors. 

A large group of buskers, concerned citizens, Councilors Signe Lindell, Joe Maestas and Ron Trujillo, and a noticeably lacking number of vendors convened in City Council Chambers on Thursday to debate this very topic following much ado amongst the sparring groups. 

Dozens of local performers and business owners took to the lecturn to voice their concerns on the matter, and opinions ranged anywhere from love for the buskers to downright wanting them gone. Of course, the buskers themselves sang the praises of street performance.

“I think some people have confused busking and panhandling,” local musician Alysha Shaw said. “I’m hoping there’s a way that we can handle the business of art on the whole in a better way.”

And, despite a fairly low turnout, vendors were mostly reasonable. 

“Most of you here are not part of the problem, but even New Orleans regulates buskers,” Plaza food vendor Michael Murphy said. “What is a busker’s playing field? Are you playing to the whole Plaza? No. We have venues for that.”

“There should not be CD sales on the Plaza—it’s merchandise,” jewelry vendor Ben Chavez said. “Vendors pay substantially to be on the Plaza and must have liability insurance.”

Fellow vendor and 35 year Plaza mainstay Martha Reich also addressed issues of unfairness saying, “I have rules I have to follow. I don’t like it, but I follow them. I cannot have radios or music on the Plaza, I can’t display signs, I have to move when the city asks…I like buskers, I don’t like what they bring.”

Ultimately, however, vendor unrest is limited to a mere handful of people, which almost makes it seem like the actual issue is that vendors feel short-changed by their own issues (insurance, background checks, licensing, etc.).

“It looks like the vendors are dissatisfied with their own ordinance and are using the buskers to complain about that dissatisfaction,” Santa Fe Busking Alliance spokesman/busker George Robinson tells SFR.

Granted, not every musician who performs on or around the Plaza is respectful, self-aware or even slightly talented, and certain restrictions make absolute sense. Mostly, it boils down to people just being cool. That said, do we really want to live in a city where non-traditional musicians are treated like criminals? City police Sgt. Chris McCord says, “I cannot enforce any law that is not criminal.” Thus, there is no legal recourse for SFPD in the event complaints are made unless criminal provisions are added to the ordinance. Does this sound overblown? You bet.

Also, does it strike anyone as odd that so-called pros have been all up in the city’s face with subsidy requests but street performers are treated like second-class citizens or as if their art is somehow less valid?

No resolution was reached. City Council is to readdress busking ordinance revisions on April 30.


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