Barrie’s street performer program is under the microscope as the city gets ready for another season of outdoor busking next year.
In 2009, the City of Barrie began a program that would help local artists get some needed exposure in hopes of not only assisting them, but also help to liven up the downtown streets during the peak summer hours. Initially, the program charged the performers a set fee of $100 for the permit to perform; that fee was later reduced to $50 when the buskers informed those in the Department of Culture that the higher fee was not allowing the mostly young performers to recover any costs after paying it on top of parking fees and other expenses. The buskers rely on the audiences they entertain to tip as they watch, and performers were still having a hard time financially even after the fee was cut in half.
In 2014, the Department of Culture decided to actually hire six of the previous year’s performers and the following year did so again with upwards of another 21 also auditioning. The budget for the Street Performers program in 2017 was $9,072.26, which included salaries, benefits and other expenses.
Amanda Dyke, the city’s culture officer, says that the report was brought about to update council on the changes that had occurred since the program’s inception.
“Last night’s report was put together because it had been a while since council was informed of the street performer progress and the changes that had come about since we started it,” said Dyke. “We had a new director come in who had reviewed all the aspects of the new position and the realization was that council had not been briefed in a little while so it was a good time to do so.”
Dyke is on board with the motion to put a new report together and is confident that in the end all will be well with the popular initiative.
“We’ve spoken with the Downtown BIA and also with the artists and everyone agrees that the program is working,” said Dyke. “The performers are getting recognition and moving forward with their careers and the city is seeing a new found lively atmosphere that is helping local businesses; it’s a win for all.”
One of the questions with the street performer initiative was that of the artists being insured. Councillor Arif Khan said that he had heard that by bringing these members under the employment of the corporation, they were automatically insured which protected the corporation from liability. While staff assured Khan he was correct as bringing the mostly young, upstart performers on as employees of the city helped alleviate the costs of insurance for the buskers; which in turn helped the original plan to give back to the artists as well as animating the downtown with high quality entertainment.
One busker who has benefitted from the program is John Anderson. The young local musician was selected for the program last summer which saw him perform depending on his schedule. Anderson believes the program is beneficial to new and aspiring artists and credits it for helping him.
“The program is fantastic as it not only helps the city with regards to atmosphere, but also it helps businesses,” said Anderson. “An example was that I could fill Kenzington Burger Bar patio with people who wanted to enjoy some music. It really helped me and my confidence to perform in front of many people in a variety of conditions. I was able to develop new fans and acquired new gigs because of this program.”
Anderson has upcoming dates at some local establishments which can be seen on his Facebook page, John Anderson Music.
Councillor Doug Shipley originally proposed putting the street performer program on hold until a staff report could bring back to general committee that would see a program that does not have performers as city employees. After much debate between council, Shipley clarified his concerns with the issue he originally brought up and his motion was passed.
“I’m not debating that the dollar amounts are an issue, nor am I debating that the program is nice to have downtown,” said Shipley. “I would like to refer the whole motion back and get a full report on different alternatives to keeping the program going for future years but with the idea that we will look at options other than having performers as employees of the city, but not eliminating that option either.”
Another concern of Shipley’s was the city policy that staff are not allowed to take tips and how that would work as buskers rely on the generosity of their audience to make money. All issues regarding the program will be reported back to council from staff in time for the decision process as the 2018 season gets decided on in January.
Mayor Jeff Lehman’s concern before the issue was put to rest for the time being was that the plan for the program had been altered so much without council being notified. In 2009 performers paid $100 for a permit which was later reduced to $50 and now the city pays the performers.
“I have a real concern how we ended up here without council knowing about it,” said Lehman. “I don’t think I necessarily need a forensic ‘how did that happen’, but rather some assurance that these kinds of program changes would not be considered without council approval in the future.”