February 11th, 2011 By STACY BROWNHILL | News | Posted In: Politics, City Hall

Street Buskers and Portland Businesses Revisit 15-Year-Old Agreement

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Where, when and how can street buskers perform in Portland? Musicians, performers, local business owners, neighborhood association reps and police officers sat down Thursday evening with City of Portland officials to discuss a collective agreement created 15 years ago that spells out the particulars.

For instance, according to the Street Musician Partnership agreement, performers (like the “silver man” human statue) should only perform for one hour at a time, and no more than two hours a day, due to the popularity of certain spots. Musicians (like the “bucket drummers”) at Saturday Market should space themselves out at least one block apart and should not be heard more than 100 feet away.

There are stipulations for businesses and officials too, albeit less pointed: the rules say others should not interrupt a busker’s performance and they should “be professional, courteous and not resort to threats or intimidation.”


The only enforceable law, city noise control officer Paul Van Orden made clear, is the 100-foot noise ordinance. The rest, he said, are community guidelines.


Tension kicked off the meeting Thursday night attended by about 50 people. Those in the audience included suited desk-workers with briefcases on one side of the room; fedora-clad buskers with guitars on the other side of the room. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Van Orden.

Buddy Bee Anthony, a keyboardist who plays on Southwest Morrison between 9th and 10th Avenues, asked the first question: “Why do we refer to music as noise?” He said he’s faced intimidation while street performing. One time, he said, a guard told him he would turn on the sprinklers unless Anthony moved his piano-playing.

Ron Sanford, drummer, thought “trains, automobiles and rap music” created greater annoyance than street musicians, and wanted the city to find a way to measure the decibels and put different noises in perspective.


Kris Cheeseman, a vendor at Saturday Market, said some buskers “ruin her business” by diverting customers. She wants the City to create a buffer zone similar to a no-smoking zone.


Grace Uwagbae, Public Advocate for the Mayor’s Office, said she’s had downtown business workers leave angry voicemails that record the street music flowing into their offices.


The mood changed dramatically after participants mingled for small group discussions. By the end of the forum, buskers and businessmen found common ground in several shared concerns, and the passion was largely diffused in the City Hall meeting space.


Here are four things all sides at the forum agreed on:


1. Street music and performance is a vital part of Portland’s culture.


2. There needs to be more education for buskers and officials about the Partnership (Halley Weaver from PDXBusk.org estimated 90 percent of buskers had no idea of the agreement).


3. Unskilled, “low-quality” musicians seem to be ruining it for talented, serious musicians (for instance, Cheeseman admitted that talented street musicians are a boon for her business).


4. Canvassers, like those from Greenpeace, and panhandlers are unwelcome distractions for both sides.

 
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