Tomorrow I’ll be busking less than four feet away from where I received my noise disruption ticket nearly four months ago. It’s not an act of defiance, and I won’t pretend to understand number symmetry. I’ve been asked to come back and play by one of the business’ I use to perform in front of.
I haven’t been busking nearly as much since receiving the ticket that forced me to abandon the most lucrative busking areas in the downtown core. However, busking on Bernard certainly didn’t halt with me. In fact, more buskers have emerged this year than last. The irony being that the flood of 2017 has decimated most of the tourist attractions downtown culling the foot traffic to a fraction of expectations. It’s left a throng of desperately frustrated street performers in it’s wake. Some balking at the other to share rapidly shrinking territories. However, all may be at peace soon enough. I suspect a surprise city council vote will supply the By-Law with appropriate authority to really clean up Kelowna’s “busking problem”. Because I guess there are some of us that feel it is a problem.
I often witness buskers engaged in activities I find very frustrating. Yesterday I walked by an older gentleman performing by City Park entrance and noticed his sign. It was just short of pleading assistance to help cover medical expenses. It frustrates me because I feel I have to work hard to fight against the image that buskers are beggars. When I discover that a peer is literally begging with a sign I feel defeated and betrayed. I do think there should be rules to help prevent this, and luckily I’m not alone in that thought. Luckier still there are already rules for busking in Kelowna, and one of them prohibits busking with signs that solicit.
The unlucky part is that although Festivals Kelowna enjoys a large subsidized budget to maintain the busking program they have absolutely zero presence downtown. Buskers are told to call by-law if they run into any troubles while busking. Trouble is by-law officers have consistently demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge regarding any of the guidelines (rules) handed down by Festivals Kelowna. With confused by-law, and zero assistance from Festivals Kelowna it’s every busker for themselves and it’s easy to see why most are dissatisfied with current state of the Busking Program.
There are not enough busking stops to support the amount of buskers issued licenses. Out of the busking stops that are available only a few are in high traffic areas. Out of those that are in high traffic areas there is only one that provides enough shade to avoid heat stroke. There were over 80 buskers in the program last year, which means that over 80 buskers jockeyed for position over that one spot and filtered down into the 14 others. Any time you roll down to any busking stop you could find someone begging with a sign, a busker without a license, a licensed busker hogging a busking spot and refusing to share, a Festivals Kelowna event blocking off the area, or a myriad of other obstacles. Whatever your problem is, buskers who have bought into the busking program run by Festivals Kelowna seem to have zero assistance. Most consistent advice I received when expressing any concern was to call by-law. Most buskers have a code to never call in the officers, although I have had them set on me by a rival busker once before. The way the current by-laws read is that it only takes one anonymous complaint to give officers authority to stop or ticket a busker. It could be someone that doesn’t like you for a personal reason, or a rival busker trying to sabotage you, or as Officer Black smugly spouted when I challenged the idea there was a complaint received in the first place, ‘It only takes one, it could have been me.” I remember him smiling as I pulled the ticket from his fingers.
There are no by-laws or real laws prohibiting busking in the streets of Kelowna. Many assume you need a busking license to busk anywhere in the city. Many by-law officers assume they can request your busking licence when you’re not at a designated Busking Stop, which is something Festivals Kelowna strictly prohibits.The fact is this, the busking license you receive from Festivals Kelowna, and indeed the entire busking program, is voluntary and only helps to divide and manage popular tourist areas. Not having a license to busk does not restrict you from busking in Kelowna. Many buskers who make their living performing on the streets do not bother attaining a Festivals Kelowna license. They correctly feel following the guidelines set by Festival Kelowna guarantees less success. Seems pretty odd that the Busking Program would hinder buskers instead of helping them. But it seems as if Festival Kelowna is run and maintained by people with little to no interest/knowledge/experience with busking. As with many civil positions in Kelowna family trees trump resumes. Seems odder still that I have not yet, to this date, had a conversation with a by-law officer whom has demonstrated accurate and appropriate knowledge of busking by-laws let alone the guidelines set forth by Festivals Kelowna. Many times I would try to educate the by-law officers I interacted with – although Officer Black was not receptive to education. As the responding RCMP officer said, I ‘got into a pissing match with the by-law’ that day. Officer Black’s misinformation and ego crippled my ability to make a decent living that day and exposed a problem the community of Kelowna has been facing for awhile.
For a short time after my busking ticket I felt like Rocky Balboa. I couldn’t walk a few blocks with out someone showing some form of support. I was also inundated with people approaching me to share similar experiences. Turns out many of us have been unduly hassled and treated rudely by by-law officers. Recurring themes came to bare, including being told to ‘watch out’ and to ‘not shoot myself in the foot’ every time I relayed this information to any point of authority. It felt like there was some real Eye’s Wide Shut shitte going on. Community leaders from all levels reached out to me as well. Some tried to quell any discord while others wanted to organize a BuskerFest on Bernard to stick it to the man. Not knowing the depth of what I was involved in I decided to act conservatively. So why are by-law officers generally so bullish? Maybe they have to be. I’d like to think more of humanity, but I could be naive. I was a security guard once; I didn’t find it impossible not to be a bullish douch-bag. I can only imagine Greg Wise feels differently.
Street performing downtown comes with an amplitude of hassle that most people would find surprising. Some local businesses attempt to drown us out with their speakers and others have a reputation for sicking the by-law on anyone set up in front of their shops. While most business’s realize the benefits to having a talented performer pleasing clientele and keeping pan handlers at bay, others actively sabotage us with malicious intent. No matter which side of the street you stand it’s easy to see there is an image problem for busking here in Kelowna. I witness a battle between the Community of Kelowna and the Corporation of Kelowna every day. Lucky for us the Corporation seems to be helmed by blind self-interested fools. Meanwhile the community hosts such brilliant thoughtful individuals who’s selfless contributions brighten our city.
It’s a battle of opinions and ideals. Which means the battleground rests in your mind. What do you think when you see a busker performing on the street. Do you smile? Do you snarl? Take a picture? Avoid eye contact? Do you need to have the ticket stub in order to enjoy the performance? When City Council does vote on enacting new busking by-laws to crack down on street performers they may act as if they don’t need your input. They may announce the vote 3 days in advance. They may already know exactly what the outcome will be. However, whether you believe busking is noisy begging or a community service there is a larger conversation happening right now about the direction Kelowna is heading. You deserve a voice. You deserve to live in the community you want, and we can build it together.
As for me I’ve been able to leverage the exposure my street adventures have garnered to pursue more lucrative means of creating employment for myself. I make a living and spend my ‘free’ time creating community building events and projects to help create the kind of community I want to live in. That’s my goal. It’s my journey. Try as they might the faceless corporation of Kelowna won’t be able to keep me down. I can remain immune to their influence as long as I remain in the light of the community. There I will survive and thrive.
– Michael S.e Elliott