Instead, Madison Alder Mike Verveer has expressed his support--and the Common Council seems inclined to agree--for an ordinance that would charge street musicians for their time.
The city does not currently regulate street musicians beyond the reasonable restrictions (that apply to everyone) regarding not obstructing public sidewalks or creating "unreasonable noise." There are also rules governing musicians wishing to use public electricity--ie: be amplified on the street--and those who want to sell anything. These all seem like perfectly legitimate rules to me.
Recently, however, Warren Hansen, coordinator of Madison's street vending, proposed putting legal and financial limits on performer's ability to do their thing. He "suggested charging performers $50 for an annual permit, or $10 a day and setting standards for things like how close they could operate to a business and one another."
Advocates of this system point to the fact that Madison is apparently one of very few cities of its size not to charge a fee for buskers. But since when has our city been all that keen on keeping up with the Jones'? And why now?
...during this year’s Dane County Farmers’ Markets on the Capitol Square, a glut of street performers — including balloon hat artists and a masseuse — has made even Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, change his position on the issue.I've been a busker and I've been a pedestrian, and I can say that 90% of the people out there performing are courteous and polite. Like all weird, seemingly unnecessary laws, this one may come about as the result of the actions of a few thoughtless and/or bad apples. But it doesn't have to be quite so severe.
“I really thought it was a solution in search of a problem,” Verveer said. “Now staff is bringing this to our attention again, and in a more adamant way.”
Instead of charging the proposed $50/year and $10/day rate--the latter of which is more than some buskers make in a day, by the way--why not simply require a free permit that places mild restrictions on duration and location? That way, we avoid the problem of too many buskers in one spot, and for too long (I'm sure the food cart vendors would appreciate that in regards to the Piccolo Man).
And if the idea of not charging for these permits gets the city's panties into too hard a twist, then make the fee nominal--say, $1 for a day, $5 for the year? Yeah, it's a pesky token thing, but if it deters the nuisance-inclined and rewards the nice 90%, then why not?
Honestly, I'm not entirely comfortable with any permitting requirements for acoustic acts, but the above represents what I believe to be a reasonable compromise. The street musicians and performers are a major part of keeping State Street at all unique and interesting. We need to stop moving toward the sterilization efforts that seem to have been at the forefront of "improvements" to the area for a number of years now, and realize that these funky, earthy, impromptu elements are what makes the street so appealing.
UPDATE TO ADD: Silly of me not to think of and do this in the first place, but I encourage anyone interested in this issue to contact Ald. Verveer and the Common Council to express, politely, their views. Verveer can be contacted directly here, and the CC here. They won't know what we think unless we speak up!