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City contemplates boost for buskers

Clowns Jim Ricks, left, and Scott Smith entertain people on Government Street. - Roszan Holmen/News staff
Clowns Jim Ricks, left, and Scott Smith entertain people on Government Street.
— image credit: Roszan Holmen/News staff

With a red clown nose and matching red plastic glasses, Jim Ricks pulls in a passing pedestrian.

"I'm so glad you're here!"

"We were waiting!" adds clowning partner Scott Smith banjolele in hand. "You're just on time!"

Before there's a moment to back away, the songs and silliness begin.

"Ain't she sweet," the pair sing to an embarrassed, but smiling, woman on Government Street.

The two belong to the five-member Sunshine Clown Society, who do clown work as therapy in hospitals. Smith and Ricks, however, are keen to do more clowning as buskers.

"It's edgy," said Ricks. "There's always surprises."

Ricks welcomes any changes that Victoria city council is contemplating that will help buskers earn a living.

Among them is an amendment to the bylaw that would enable buskers to sell products related to their performance, such as CDs or postcards.

"We're obviously going to need parametres for what kind of products are sold," said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

Other proposed amendments include: allowing members of a busking group to get some kind of group-licence rate; and, allowing buskers to have a city-issued sign soliciting donations and explaining performers are not paid by the city.

Ricks isn't so sure the signs are needed.

"I think people know (how buskers are paid)," he said. "Personally, we wouldn't do that."

Fiddler Jordan Vermes already has a sign that reads "Busking my way to university," tucked into his violin case.

The 18 year old would be happy to sell CDs, if he had one. His beef, however, is with another proposal to  ensure buskers don't stay put in one place.

Proposed for debate is a two-hour limit for buskers, after which time they can not return to the same spot until the next day.

Some businesses have complained they hear the same repertoire of music over and over, Thornton-Joe explained.

The bylaw, if implemented, threatens to leave prime spots empty, said Vermes.

"For the people who are making a good living, don't stop them because then there won't be any music on the street," he said.

Mark Harrison also sees no need for the regulation.

As manager of Rogers' Soda Shoppe, across from busker Darth Fiddler's favourite haunt, he said he's never had any complaints from customers.

"My feelings are very positive toward the buskers," Harrison said. "I've found them to be a benefit to the business."

In his experience, they've also been receptive to any requests or complaints.

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