Buskers boom as economy dives

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2012
Cuba Mall Buskers
ROSS GIBLIN/ Fairfax NZ
ON SONG: Oscar Laven, Sam Thurston and James Quick are among the swelling busker numbers performing in Wellington.

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Singing for your supper is proving popular on the streets of Wellington, with busker numbers booming.

Figures released by Wellington City Council reveal the number of street performers seeking licences has jumped more than 50 per cent over the last four years.

While tough economic times might have persuaded more people to break out the guitar in Cuba Mall, the city council is also hailing the increase as a sign of the capital's beating artistic heart.

Councillor Stephanie Cook, who holds the social portfolio, said the boost could equally reflect the economy or Wellington's arts and cultural focus.

"We certainly welcome busking in the city – it adds vibrancy and reflects the cultural capital kind of focus that we have, and we certainly love to see it."

Council spokesman Grahame Armstrong said greater compliance with licensing could have fed the increase. Walkwise staff were encouraged to check whether buskers had the proper permit.

Wellington City Mission chief executive Michelle Branney said people had become increasingly conscious of the need to budget, and every extra cent helped.

Wellington City Council issued 796 licences last year – up from 520 in 2008. Licences are free and are valid for six months.

Porirua City Council said it had about six buskers performing a week, while Hutt City Council issued 52 licences last year, and has issued 15 so far this year.

Hastings District Council had about 15 people sign up to busk in six months. Napier City Council estimated there were about 50-70 busking permits issued a year.

Creative Capital Arts Trust manager Emme Giesen said because Wellington was compact and so many people walked, its streets were ideal busking ground.

The city was also "very receptive" to street performers, she said.

However, it could be a struggle to find large enough spaces for some acts to perform.

At next year's Fringe Festival there were plans for a dedicated busking space with daily performances for lunch crowds.

But while busking may be growing, not all acts get the public seal of approval. About two acts a year have their licences revoked.

Mr Armstrong said the decision to withdraw a licence would only be made after several complaints, usually noise-related.

Kenny the Busker, who died last year, had a long-running dispute with the council over noise complaints that once resulted in his amplifier being confiscated.

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Under street performer rules, buskers must move on if requested to by a retailer; must share the prime spots, with no performance lasting longer than 90 minutes; and keep noise at a "considerate" level.

- The Dominion Post

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