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February 16th, 2011 STACY BROWNHILL | City Hall
 

Down On The Corner

Buskers and the city revisit a 15-year-old deal.

news4_buskers_3715STREET STRIFE: Are buskers part of Portland’s harmony? - IMAGE: Jessica Stambach
Fifteen years ago, then-Mayor Vera Katz, police, business associations and musicians signed an agreement that dictates when, where and how bucket drummers, fiddlers and human statues can perform in Portland.

The distance a saxophonist’s notes travel, the length of time a juggler occupies his corner, and the rights of a store owner who’s angry with a bagpiper on his sidewalk are all spelled out in that Street Musicians and Performers Partnership Agreement.

For instance, buskers may only perform in one spot for an hour at a time. Musicians must space themselves out at least one block apart and should not be heard more than 100 feet away. Businesses also face stipulations, such as not interrupting a performance or resorting “to threats or intimidation.”

Whether any of these parameters are being respected is another matter.

At a forum last week, city Noise Control Officer Paul Van Orden and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz heard musicians complain that one hour was an inadequate performance time and that police officers frequently harassed them for no reason.

Buddy Bee Anthony, a keyboardist who plays at Southwest Morrison Street between 9th and 10th avenues, asked at the Feb. 10 forum, “Why do we refer to music as noise?” Anthony said that a guard outside City Hall once told him he would turn on the sprinklers unless he moved his piano playing.

Store owners griped that buskers often harm business; representatives of neighborhood associations voiced concern about music floating up to high-rise apartments downtown. Saturday Market vendor Kristine Cheeseman said some less-than-talented buskers “ruin her livelihood” by playing near her stall.

Van Orden, who used to be a band booker, says his office issues at most 15 $250 violations to street performers per year, mostly to bucket drummers, who usually pay them with community service. The only enforceable law, says Van Orden, is the 100-foot ordinance. But he says the collaborative agreement helps keep Portland “organic” and avoids the city busker fees charged by some music havens like Seattle and New York.

Despite some tension at the Feb. 10 meeting, all agreed street performance is a vital vibe, and there needs to be more education about the agreement. 

Halley Weaver, a bicycling street harpist with PDXBusk.org, estimates 90 percent of the city’s 50 to 75 buskers don’t know the agreement. Fritz’s office is ambivalent about scheduling additional meetings or enacting changes, says Fritz policy assistant Sara Hussein. The office is still deciding what steps to take next. 

 
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