Those of us who came to Greensboro from larger and more established cities never understood the total and complete lack of street performers in the downtown district.
Buskers, which is what street performers are called, encompass all manner of the performing arts, including music, dance, spoken word, fine art, mysticism and magic. They have been an established part of city life for thousands of years.
Why not here? Busking, as it turns out, was illegal in Greensboro — until last week when the city council voted 8-1 in favor of an ordinance making it legal.
But because of our regulatory fervor in this city, the ordinance looks like something someone’s parents drew up, with exceptions, loopholes, licensing and out clauses which can be invoked to shut anyone down at any time. It involves the council, the Greensboro Police Department, the city manager, the city clerk, the city tax collector and anyone who owns a business.
Really, this could have been as simple as striking the ordinance that made busking illegal in the first place. But that’s not how we do things here.
That being said, the ordinance is not entirely unreasonable.
THE CITY MANAGER CAN SHUT DOWN ANY OF THESE LOCATIONS AT HER DISCRETION.
Buskers will be required’ to procure a license from the city at a fee of $10 — unlike the city panhandling license, which is free. It should be considered a victory that the city finally recognizes the difference between busking and panhandling, but it seems inappropriate that buskers, which add something positive to the street experience, have to pay for the privilege while panhandlers get a free ride.
Still, $10 won’t break anybody’s bank, and a clause in the ordinance states that when groups perform, just one member of the group needs to hold a license. But later in the document it states that “Each cooperative street performer within a single group s required to meet the licensing requirements of this ordinance.” This is confusing, to say the least.
More troubling is the clause that states that anyone applying for said license “shall submit to a criminal background check.”
We don’t do background checks on people who want to buy property or start businesses that don’t involve alcohol, but if you want to play guitar on the sidewalk, you better have a clean record.
It’s a good thing Lead Belly isn’t alive to see this. With a gun charge, a homicide and an attempted murder under his belt, he would not be eligible to perform on Elm Street.
The regulatory rigamarole gets more constricting as the ordinance goes on.
The city manager shall keep a list of suitable locations for street performers, to be maintained by the clerk. The city manager can shut down any of these locations at her discretion. New locations must be petitioned through city council.
Performances can last four hours. No more. And “any city official” can shut down a performance after even a single complaint.
There’s more, of course — too many regulations to list in this space. But it is a step forward. We finally got the city to distinguish between busking and panhandling. Maybe eventually we can get them to tell the difference between music and noise.
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