Downtown pilot program to pay street performers

Bo Diddley Plaza
Photo by Seth Johnson

A Gainesville pilot program that will bring street performers to the downtown area is set to launch in the next few weeks.

The gist of the $25,000 pilot program is to pay artists—including such musicians, magicians, jugglers, dancers, story-tellers and spoken word poets—to perform at one of three pre-identified locations downtown, said Chelsea Carnes, an event coordinator the city’s parks, recreation and cultural affairs (PRCA) department.

The cultural affairs staff held focus groups with performers and surveyed downtown businesses in developing the pilot, which is slated to run on the weekends from July through November. But Carnes said she hopes to get the first contracts signed and have the first paid performances before the end of June. 

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Originally approved by the city commission on Feb. 3 as a busking pilot program, PRCA is now calling it the GNV Street Shows after consulting with the performers themselves.

“Busking does have some negative connotations, and ultimately the performers preferred the word street shows,” Carnes told the commission at its regular meeting Thursday.

During a two-week period, more than 60 performers have applied to participate in the program, she said. And the city is still taking applications through the city’s Street Shows web page.

“It’s not just a lot of applications, they are high quality,” Carnes said. “Some of the performers who have been applying could play anywhere in town, and they want to play on our sidewalks.”

The pilot programming is the beginning of a larger process to have “a much more robust and broad discussion on how to make outdoor performance a regular feature of our city,” Commissioner Reina Saco said in February.

The program will pay artists $100 an hour, and the artists also can collect tips during their performances. As part of the contract, the artists also agree to abide by a set of rules that include not blocking business entrances or sidewalks and being courteous about the volume of the performances.

The three selected “busk stops”—also a name suggested by the performers— are:

  • Southeast First Street and Southeast Second Avenue
  • Southeast Second Place and Southeast First Street
  • Main Street and Southeast First Avenue

The sites were chosen to take into account lighting, traffic, sidewalk space and the number of pedestrians in the area, Carnes said.

“We want to position our performers in spaces where people actually walk by and hear them,” Carnes said.

In setting a preliminary schedule, the PRCA staff also looked at the schedule of Hippodrome performances, Free Fridays concert series at Bo Diddley Plaza as well as the schedules of downtown bars and music venues.

During the pilot program, the city is asking the performers to have a sign at their performance that says GNV Street Shows, and to produce photos or videos of their performance as part of a verification and promotional effort.

Carnes said the signs indicate “they are part of our program, and they are sponsored by the city – kind of celebrating the city is doing this initiative and recognizing it is part of the initiative.”

Artists asked the city in turn to promote the performance through a web site, and the Street Shows page will have an updated listing of the acts and where and when they are performing, Carnes said.

“I hope we’re able to expose people to forms of art that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to or just haven’t thought about,” Mayor Lauren Poe said Thursday. “That can be a transformative experience.”

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