Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Columns

I sometimes forget to check for new columns at the Citizen web site, pearls of wisdom and whimsy from Rob O'Neal and Mandy Bolen. I'm also falling behind on the "Taxi in Paradise" column from Michael Suib in the Miami Herald.

Rob has a particularly good one up there now, Welcome Back, that captures the essence of the dilemma that faces Key West in the future.

I went to a meeting of the Resident/Visitor Planning Committee on Monday afternoon, just to observe, and sat through an interesting conversation between the committee (absent several missing members) and two street performers, who were there to comment on a proposed ordinance regulating and licensing performers and artists to ply their respective talents on the streets of the city. Of course, this sort of thing has been going on here for a long time. In truth, the primary objective of the ordinance is to give the city authority to clear out some panhandlers who have taken to calling themselves performers by painting themselves silver, or strumming on a guitar, and using that disguise as a license to aggressively panhandle all who pass by. But it's also designed to keep disputes among the legitimate performers to a minimum.

The nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square is managed by Cultural Preservation Society, and it seems to operate pretty well. Perhaps the city's new regulations will designate a number of spots out on Duval Street and in other locations as performer zones, and give the CPS similar authority to control the use of those spots.

There are a just a few egregious users of the technique of aggressive panhandling, and I believe that there is already an ordinance or law dealing with it. One of the street performers, a person I recognized as a 'musicina' but whose name I don't know, was appearing to ask that the ordinance include a grandfather clause (he claims to have been performing in Key West for 20 years and to have earned his living this way for 35 years). He and the other performer, someone with a fire act I gathered, offered some real world insight into the lives and ways of street performers -- buskers is the mot juste for such people.

They tend to travel from place to place, cities in Colorado such as Boulder and Vail, San Diego, Boston, NYC, Raleigh, etc., and some times overseas. I have a new friend, Whistling Tom, who told me of his tour of about six countries in Europe, partially in the company of Love 22.

I ran a quick Google search on "street performer" and "regulation" and got 397 hits.

I wonder what it is that each of those cities has about it that attracts buskers in the first place. I suspect that the most important factor is that these cities have areas of high pedestrian traffic and the ability to ensure that the buskers don't overwhelm the areas, obstruct traffic, and cause trouble. We've watched buskers in places like Ireland (where it is a high art), England, Paris (including many on the Metro), Budapest, Berlin, Rome and Amsterdam. In every case, the quality of the entertainment was well worth the time it took to listen to it or watch it, and it was usually worth a "gift of appreciation" to the performer or performers. I've even considered trying it out myself, but I haven't come up with but one idea that I could pull off, and that one involves getting into a costume that worked in the Netherlands but would quickly put me into heat exhaustion and dehydration here in Key West.

I came away from the R/V meeting with a new appreciation for buskers, and hope that the City continues to encourage them, that it permits the good ones to earn their living in the manner they choose. I also hope that the City likewise finds a legal and, I hope, a compassionate way to remove the harassers who are blocking walks and scaring people.

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