Fundraising To Save Freedom Of Street Culture

Keep Streets Live has just launched a fundraising campaign via the platform IndyGoGo, with a rather splendid five minute video of what we are about and explaining the terrible situation we are fighting in a legal battle. Check out our campaigning fundraising page now.

This is the crux of what we are pitching…

Who and Why:

My name is Jonny Walker. I am a Liverpool-born singer/songwriter, musician, a full-time street performer and the Founding Director of ASAP (Association of Street Artists and Performers).  I have spent the last twelve years travelling the country as a wandering minstrel, playing music in the towns and cities of the UK and beyond. I have seen the power of informal, street-level performances of art and music to create a sense of colour, vibrancy and urban community at first-hand. I started the Keep Streets Live Campaign to protect and preserve informal community uses of public space, as it is now under threat.

Why We Need Your Help:

Sadly, in recent years, many local authorities across the UK have introduced highly-restrictive policies and laws that criminalise street performance and threaten the future of shared public spaces that are open to the arts and music. On November 11th this year, Labour-led Camden Council voted to bring in one of the most stifling street music laws in modern British history. Under this new law even singing in the streets for fun, if done without a license, is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000. Musicians face having their instruments confiscated on the street by the police, or council officials, who will have the power to sell them if the fine is not paid within 28 days.

Why This Matters:

This draconian new law will do great damage to Camden’s cultural and social well-being, it will scare and intimidate musicians away from the streets, and it will set an incredibly damaging precedent for towns and cities across the UK, if it goes unchallenged. It comes as a bitter blow at a time when many traditional venues for live music are closing down. The streets have become a vital and democratic forum for musicians to be heard, whether they are just starting out, gaining experience or actually making a living.

The Bigger Picture:

At the very time when our high streets need a helping hand to stay vital in the face of rapid social and economic changes which have seen record number of businesses close their doors forever, policies are being implemented that damage the communal lives of our towns and cities. Free street art and live music is one great way of keeping our high streets alive. It’s more important than ever before that local authorities channel their limited resources to support and sustain creative and grassroots communities in our urban centres, instead of heavy handed and misguided clampdowns. By supporting this landmark campaign you will be helping to protect the cultural freedoms of our towns and cities and giving us the resources to work alongside local authorities in the future.

What We Are Doing About This:

I started a petition, so far signed by over 6000 people, asking Camden Council to rethink their damaging plans. Our campaign arranged protest events which were supported by comedians Bill Bailey and Mark Thomas, and the musicians Billy Bragg and Jon Gomm amongst many others. We even set up the Citizen’s Kazoo Orchestra as a light-hearted rebellion against the irrational banning of wind instruments. I made presentations to the Cabinet, Licensing Committee and full Council. The Musician’s Union released a statement nationally asking Camden Council to preserve their musical heritage and to abandon their contentious policy. Despite this chorus of constructive opposition the Council passed this policy into law in a narrow vote in November. Our options were running out so we contacted a leading Human Rights law firm Leigh Day who told us that this new law was so unfair and over the top that we had a good chance of challenging it in the High Courts. The Human Rights Act protects freedom of expression and this applies to performances of music as well as to speech and the written word. We now had the basis for a historic legal challenge.

We have set up a not-for-profit organisation the Keep Streets Live Campaign andlaunched formal legal proceedings against Camden Council, asking a High Court judge to strike down this legislation and to send a powerful message to other local authorities: protect and nurture grassroots culture, don’t stamp it out!

Why Help?

I am a working musician with a young family. Running a campaign takes up a huge amount of time and I can’t do this alone. Camden Council have an in-house legal team and a budget of millions of pounds, whilst we are a very small and committed team of musicians and campaigners. We urgently need to raise funds. Our solicitors, Leigh Day believe in our case and are working on a conditional fee arrangement. In addition, we’ve applied for a Protective Costs Order asking our liability to be capped at £5,000. You can see my witness statement applying for this order at this link. However, if this is not granted and we don’t have the necessary funds, we would have to abandon this legal challenge and allow a huge injustice to stand uncorrected. We think this is too important an issue to walk away from.

How You Can Help:

We are seeking to raise £25,000 to cover potential legal costs and the costs of running this campaign over several months, in order to demonstrate to Camden Council that we can take this all the way. Any amount of money we raise up to and beyond that amount will demonstrate to the Judge hearing our case, and to Camden Council that we have the resources needed to see this challenge through.

People from across Great Britain have already volunteered their time and gifts so we can offer you fantastic perks for supporting us: from virtual cuddles, kazoos signed by celebrities, Skype concerts, Busking Masterclasses, House Concerts and campaign nights we have a range of exciting perks to offer you in exchange for donations towards our campaign as we seek to Keep Streets Live.

How Your Money Will Be Used:

In the event of a win in the courts where we are not liable for legal fees, or a situation where we are unable to continue with the legal challenge because we haven’t raised enough, all the money raised will be used to develop the newly founded not-for-profit organisation, the Keep Streets Live Campaign, with a specific mission to protect community and grassroots uses of shared public spaces nationally by working alongside other bodies and providing training and support programs. You can see the articles and mission of this organisation by following this link. This money would be vital in realising our vision for an advocacy body for grassroots street culture. We want to train street performers in first aid, create support networks between performers and the homeless, and design creative and fair policies for street performance that local authorities can implement quickly and at low cost. We want to be part of creating a national culture of collaboration and mutuality between local authorities and the grassroots which would make heavy handed laws like Camden’s a relic of the past. We want to turn the difficult situation we now face into an opportunity to make a positive change on the streets of the UK.

And, It Works!

Last year in Liverpool, a city synonymous with live music, I helped lead a campaign against a license scheme similar to Camden’s which threatened street musicians with trespass prosecutions, banned under 18s from playing music and placed severe restrictions on the life of the streets. Our campaign was successful and the new law was overturned. We are now working with Liverpool Council and the Musician’s Union to draw together a fair and open ‘best practise guide’ for street performing that balances the needs of all the users who share public spaces. Thank you to everyone who supported this campaign.

In York we set up a petition calling on the Council to scrap a highly restrictive license scheme and to make the streets more open. Again, as a direct result of our campaign, York’s civic leaders made significant changes to their policy and invited musicians, street performers and other bodies to be part of an ongoing dialogue.

Join In:

We are a growing community of artists, performers, musicians and people who value public spaces that are open to the arts. Even if you are unable to contribute financially at this time, we would still love for you to get involved. From handing out leaflets, gathering signatures, playing the kazoo at protests, performing pop-up gigs and helping us send out perks, there are lots of ways in which you can get stuck in and we are very open to suggestions. Join the Association of Street Artists and Performers for free here:

In a nutshell…

This is a landmark legal challenge which will set a precedent for the use of public space in the United Kingdom. Join with us as we seek to protect and preserve the ancient freedoms of the street and find creative ways to build urban community and to Keep Streets Live!

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This post was written by
Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

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