By Melinda Munson
Ordinance 23-10, passed April 20, allows performance artists to busk in two locations south of First Avenue. A pet project of former mayor Monica Carlson who died in 2018, the code update is meant to “enhance the vibrancy, vitality and ambience of the municipality,” according to the ordinance.
The municipality defines a busker as “a street performer who may do balloon twisting, card tricks, clowning, comedy, contortions, dancing, singing, juggling, magic, mime, a mime variation where the performer is a living statue, musical performance, visual arts and puppeteering.”
Three buskers submitted applications to the Visitor Department and all three were approved.
Two sites are available for busking: one by the centennial statue and the other by Pullen Pond bridge. The spots are each marked by a red sign, positioned next to a bench commissioned by Douglas Smith of Woodsmith. The red and black of the benches tie into the Northwest Coast Formline that adorns the outside of the Shoreline Park restrooms.
Busking is limited to four consecutive hours per participant per day and is first come, first served. Amplification of sound is not allowed, nor is the sale of merchandise.
“It’s an experimental year. This is completely new for the city,” said Andrew Nadon, who went busking on one of two days he’s had off this season. Between four jobs, the tour guide/musician/magician/singer has found it difficult to take advantage of the code change.
He describes his Skagway act as music, magic and friendly con games mixed in with a little bit of Robert Service poetry.
Nadon, a year-round resident who performs on cruise ships, once supported himself by busking on the streets of Salt Lake City for a year.
The performer found a few challenges with his Skagway busking experience. He said his tips were “discouraging” and estimated he made about $5 per hour. Per the current code, artists are allowed to accept but not solicit gratuities. Nadon said there is an art to asking for tips.
“I get that they don’t want us accosting people. There’s a line there,” he said.
Nadon, who set up behind the centennial statue, felt “lonely” being the only busker in the area and suggested more performers would easily fit and add to the atmosphere.
“There’s no reason there couldn’t be two or three at a time,” he said.
All in all, Nadon is excited about the future of the busking program.
“It was fun,” he said. “I’m so grateful that they have made this possible for artists. I think it can be successful.”
Tourism Director Jaime Bricker is eager to debrief buskers and hear about their experiences.
“I want to revisit this,” she said. “What works, what doesn’t. I hope it‘s lucrative for buskers and entertaining for visitors.”