In December 2013, I learnt that I obtained a scholarship offered by the Peter Kirk foundation. This quote from the foundations website http://www.kirkfund.org.uk/ explains what those scholarships are all about : « Each year up to ten Peter Kirk travel scholarships are awarded to promote understanding of Europe amongst young Britons, and of Britain amongst young people from other European countries. They enable young people aged between 18 and 26 to carry out a study project of their own choice in another European country »
The title of my project is : « Street performing in Europe, where are we heading ? ». So lets start from the beginning, why would I want to study « street performing » on a European level and how did that idea come to me ?
In April 2013, I quite my job in the UK to start living through my passion : music. My starting point to make a living was to play on the streets and receive some donations, as well as to sell my Cds. Playing in the streets is a real pleasure as it is an opportunity to travel and meet people from all over the world ; it is also a great way of finding gigs, other types of events as well as artistic collaborations. When I started busking, I had no clue at what extent street performing was actually regulated by public authorities.
In some cities you can simply go and play, and in others it is plainly not allowed. In some, you need to obtain a license. Sometimes completing a form to obtain this license is sufficient, sometimes you actually need to pass an audition. Some of those licenses will allow you to play anywhere in the city and whenever you want, other licenses will allocate specific time frames and pitches… and so on and so fourth. Regarding selling Cds, it is in most cases illegal as one would need a street traders license. Obtaining this street traders license is in most cases quite expensive and involves heavy bureaucratic procedures – as a traveling musician, those procedures are simply to complicated to go through. Luckily, the police doesn’t care in most cases. Last but not least, you need to follow the evolution of all those rules as they are regularly changing, and often getting stricter. Here is a very interesting case study that is currently going on in London, with artists fighting for their freedom of expression: http://keepstreetslive.com/
Even though the majority of my street performances happened with no incidents, I had some problems (and some times quite serious ones) in the following places :
In some cases, an area where street performing was once upon a time freely allowed has become strictly regulated, in other cases, the police is actually not aware of the rules surrounding street performing and illegally prevents an artist from performing.
It is those incidents, combined with the stories I have heard from fellow street performers, that have led me to me asking questions to myself about the future of street performing. Indeed, street performing is an old standing tradition bringing smiles, positivity, warmth, emotion, laughter and free entertainment in the heart of cities. I therefore started asking myself how those activities are regulated in various European cities, and if street performance will continue in years to come with public authorities encouraging this form of expression; or if this street culture will slowly decline due to changes in laws, sometimes a menacing police force, and complicated bureaucratic procedures discouraging artists to perform.
I will be going to several towns and cities in at least seven countries representing the different European regions, performing with my Hang, in Portugal, Holland, the UK, Sweden, Croatia, Poland and Lithuania to analyze the ins and outs of street performing and how regulations differ from place to place. It will also be an opportunity to interview local artists to get their point of view on the future of street performing in their region. I will write one blog article for each country I will be going to developing on my experience there, and end with a comparative report at the end of my travels.
Sunday 4th May I am off to my first destination, Portugal : let the adventure begin.