This campaign is intended to be a positive celebration of spontaneous street performance. Our principle aim is to raise awareness of the many ways in which street entertainment brings life to the city of Liverpool. We know from experience that a vibrant street scene brings with it the capacity to lift people’s mood and completely change the atmosphere of a city’s street. We emphasise these positive aspects elsewhere on this site, but this campaign has arisen in direct response to a new policy on street performing in Liverpool, due to come into effect on July 9th. Upon a detailed reading of the Liverpool City Council Cabinet Agenda, Friday 8th June 2012, it is clear that street performing is predominately seen as a potential problem to be tightly managed, rather than as an integral part of Liverpool’s cultural life.
This series of posts combines what we consider to be the ‘highlights’ of the minutes of the aforementioned council meeting wherein the new policy is set out, with our reasons why we find their statements highly problematic.
Liverpool City Council Says:
- This policy will enable the effective management of street entertainers and enable Police and Council Officers to implement simple and effective measures to control noise, nuisance, obstruction, street trading, begging and trespass which can only enhance the perceptions of the city centre. The terms and conditions will also ensure a reasonable balance between the needs of entertainers, businesses and the general public.
The phraseology sets the tone of the document. Street entertainment is, we are told, a ‘noise’, ‘nuisance’, ‘obstruction’, ‘begging’ and ‘trespass’ – words which betray a tremendous amount of prejudice towards one of the oldest forms of public art. Whether we think of the wandering minstrels depicted by Chaucer, or the troubadours and jesters who travelled from court to court during the Medieval era, street entertainment is deeply rooted in British history.
Liverpool Council Says:
2. At present street entertainment within the city centre can be intrusive to both businesses and residents alike. Street entertainers have in the past been accused of noise nuisance violations, repetitive performances, offensive/ inappropriate behaviour and causing dangerous obstructions.
Whilst it is true that some street performers have a limited repertoire which might stand to cause annoyance to some, this could just as well say: ”Street performers bring joy, colour and life to the city’s streets. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing to see children dancing to the music of a travelling jazz band. Families watch a juggler with astonishment and delight. Tourists from all over the world come to Liverpool and are astonished by the talent on display on the streets, and all of it free and not pre-arranged.” The Council’s perspective is highly one-sided with a heavy overemphasis on the few negative aspects. We would like to see some concrete examples of what the council call ‘dangerous obstructions’ and ‘offensive/inappropriate’ behaviour seeing as they are being cited as one of the justifications for this policy.
Liverpool Council Says:
3. There has been an increase in reports of abusive and offensive incidents which has caused alarm and distress to members of the general public and businesses within the city centre.
This strikes us as rather alarmist. For a start, we urge the council to evidence cases of these ‘abusive’ and ‘offensive’ incidents, and the ‘alarm’ and ‘distress’ they caused. In our experience, street performers rely on a good rapport with the public and businesses to make their living. In light of the ease with which vague accusations can be levelled, and local government action implemented on that basis, we urge the council to substantiate their claims with evidence. The important point to note here, however, is that if a street performer has genuinely caused alarm and distress, then they have broken existing laws, laws which can be used for their correction. There is thus no need for more regulation. Another layer of bureaucracy requires strong grounds, grounds which, in our analysis, the council has failed to provide.