An app; for street performers, with cashless payments and the ability to distribute music in the street; for audiences to see who's busking near them, right now, and rewarding them for going to see a street show; for academics to study data on the social and economic benefits that busking provides; and then advocacy, getting local authorities to encourage (instead of arrest) buskers worldwide.
We're transforming the dialogue around busking from one where bureaucrats are "dealing with the busker problem", to one where they're experimenting with how to promote a sustainable, popular street art culture. This can only be done by showing data gathered on a large scale about the (patently obvious) benefits that busking provides, for society, for tourism, for local businesses and so on.
This paradigm shift to a pro-art urban ecosystem will not happen with the anecdotal evidence alone. It needs data. How many buskers used to receive welfare payments? What’s the psychological effect of great buskers on local inhabitants. How many tourists are brought in by buskers in Covent Garden, Pier 39, Sydney Harbour, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Vienna Busker Festival? How much more time to people spend in town because of street performers?
Our app will do all that. It helps buskers get a secondary revenue stream (so they’ll use it), it has in-app rewards and competitions and a live busker map (so audiences will use it) and it gathers data, so that arts advocates all over the world can help defend busking in courts and council meetings.
Our premise? That busking is the only form of art that is both consumed and created by society’s underserved communities – immigrants, people with disabilities, financially challenged people, ex-convicts, drug addicts…and heavily in debt music conservatory graduates.
We find a lot of the time we’re having to explain to people why this is worth it. We may be preaching to the choir here, but here are three examples.
Mat Boden. Mother’s drug habit forced her to give up Mat for adoption. He went from home to home as a kid. Picked up a drug habit and alcohol. Became homeless. Picked up juggling after seeing a street show. He’s now an internationally touring juggler and contortionist with one of the most family-friendly street shows we’ve seen. Recently arrested in Trafalgar Square for doing his regular show.
Cathy Davis. A blind mother of four whose husband died in a longshoring accident. She got herself off of welfare and feeds her kids on the money she makes busking. She gets fined the whole time.
Chen Cong, virtuoso violinist who escaped destitution, hunger and oppression under Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution in China. Got to New York. Received a full scholarship(!) to do a masters in performance at Mannes College of Music. Decided to busk instead of joining an orchestra. Every so often he plays chamber music or orchestra gigs in venues like Carnegie Hall, but every day he makes children dance, people hold hands, wipe tears out of their eyes and miss their trains on purpose. He’s been fined over 20 times to date.
We won a £50k grant from Nominet Trust in the UK, £60k and a place in a business accelerator in London, and a £15k contract with a company promoting busking in 400 venues around the UK. We've also presented academic research on busking policy at the Future of Places conference in Buenos Aires, partnered with the Project for Public Spaces, and helped advocates in Berlin, London, New York and elsewhere.
Imagine a future where you’re on your lunch break, you open an app, see a phenomenal jazz trio is just around the corner. You get there, and they have a large, cheering crowd. They’re displaying a sign that the council has provided, telling people where they can be found online.
They have 50k fans on Facebook, including many members of their audience. They sell out gigs on the weekend with adoring fans they picked up in the street. When they finish their audience pays, despite living in a cashless society (it’s where we’re headed).
When they get home, their parents, spouses, children and friends are proud of them. And the next time the council is considering a placemaking project to rejuvenate the town centre, they skip the million-dollar bronze statue, instead calling upon local artists to do the job.
That’s the reality working towards.