Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You

By Roan Farb, Opinion Staff Writer

rfarb@unca.edu

9/2/2015

There’s nothing that can quite beat the feeling of watching a woman on a stool playing an entire song using only her hand and an oddly shaped spoon. Perhaps the only thing more captivating is the sight of the man who stepped into the city bike lanes to get around her now colliding with a panting bicyclist.

For years now, Asheville has prided itself on the alternative culture & reputation its city streets have earned it. To say the city of Asheville owes much of its tourism scene to street performers, also known as buskers, would be a massive understatement.

In the last year or so, Buncombe county lawmakers have begun to discuss the possibility of issuing “busker permits” to street performers, due to a startling increase in tourism and clogged sidewalks that force pedestrians into the city’s biking lanes.

With the idea of a permit up for discussion, and the possibility of permits becoming necessary in order to perform anywhere in Asheville, the fate of the city’s tourist scene and reputation are up in the air.

Would it be beneficial for all musicians to have permits in order to practice, display and benefit financially from their talents?

Of course not. Establishing not only financial but also official documentation before being allowed to perform does nothing but limit those who would consider performing to begin with.

Is it fair to argue that only established musicians and performers are “worthy” of the Asheville sidewalks?

Absolutely not. Last time I checked, people who decided to study law weren’t the most informed on the subject of musical ability.

The possibility of a permit system being enforced in Asheville not only discourages artists from other parts of the world from visiting, but it also encourages local performers to consider leaving Buncombe county indefinitely.

With support for local musicians and artists being encouraged by the majority of businesses in the downtown area, it’s a surprise to find how silent the local community has been in regards to busker discrimination and restrictions.

Widely spoken out against and (rightfully) criticized harshly by local musicians, the idea of busker permits has seemed to have lost its initial support from the Asheville City Council’s three-person Public Safety Committee.

Local musicians have taken up efforts of their own to combat the discrimination they face on a daily basis from the very city they help keep afloat.

An organized group under the name Asheville Buskers Collective, hold regular and frequent meetings to discuss the options artists could present to Buncombe county lawmakers in order to reach a satisfactory compromise.

ABC meets on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. at New Mountain Asheville and can be contacted by calling (316) 253-6597.

The group also hosts a website, http://avlbuskers.com, with loads of information on how to help keep Asheville weird.

The Asheville Buskers Collective can be found on Facebook, and frequently posts about how to busk correctly without violating any city laws.

The other big reason behind changing Asheville’s busking policies comes drenched in sweat, pedaling up one of the extensive hills of Merrimon Avenue.

Cyclist safety is obviously very important, especially in a city where biking is so widely used, but the program has reintroduced the topic of busking restrictions in Asheville, reminding local police officers that buskers are just another obstacle on the sidewalks of the city streets.

Watch for Me NC is a cooperative pedestrian and bicyclist safety program between the NC Department of Transportation and local partners.

Developers of the program aim to minimize pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths in Asheville through a heavy focus on public education and police enforcement.

Watch for Me NC comprises of two key elements, safety and educational messages, that target drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists, and enforcement efforts by local police officers.

Watch for Me NC has received a mass amount of backing from many powerful local partners, such as the Asheville Police Department, both UNC Asheville and AB-Tech Police Departments, Neighborhood Services and Asheville Regional Transit, just to name a few.

With the city holding a heavy advantage in the form of funds and support over local musicians, artists, performers and poets, how exactly will it be possible for both sides of the argument to be heard?

Buskers not only bring tourism and a unique culture to the city of Asheville, but have also directly made the city what it is today.

While local businesses preach their adoration of art, poetry and music created in our city every time you walk through their doors, the support they boast of is, in most cases, one-dimensional.

Amidst the fight for buskers to keep their rights in our fair city, many businesses in the downtown area have avoided taking a stance on the issue.

Local business’ silence may be the final nail in the coffin for the buskers of Asheville.

Their disinterest on the issue only helps city officials near their goal of restricting and regulating free expression, destroying decades of culture and creation of which these mountains constantly sing.

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