DEAR URBAN DECODER: I’ve noticed as soon as the warm weather hits, street performers are out all over the ByWard Market. I want to do this too. Can I just head down to the Market and start playing?
Though I’m sure passersby would probably enjoy the impromptu show of your talents, there’s actually a lot more a street performer has to juggle than just flaming bowling pins.
Street performers, or buskers as they’re often called, have to jump through a few hoops before they can actually perform, given the bylaws the City of Ottawa instated in 2008 and has regulated since 2010.
In 2008, the Community and Protective Services Committee explained that the regulations were to “increase the number and variety of performers and reduce the tension between performers who must now wait in line for a space to become available.” This regulates the fair usage of the most highly sought-after spots, such as those with more tourist foot-traffic. In 2010, a fee was also applied to perform on the streets of the ByWard Market. Buskers must now pay an annual $50 licence and a daily $10 permit fee, to a maximum of $200. As there used to be no fee, and since many buskers use these performances as a primary means of income, there have been some negative reactions about the changes from performers in news articles. Though some buskers are upset about the regulations, the city has also provided opportunities for them to display their talents. For instance, when the JUNOs were in town, the city lifted the ban on busking fees to encourage Ottawa’s musical street performers to fill Ottawa’s historic ByWard Market with live music.
Another place where street performers can showcase their skills is the annual International Busker Festival on Sparks Street, which takes place Aug. 2 to 6. The festival — which is in its 21st season — calls on the best buskers from around the world to display their talents at the five-day event. Christina Clark, the event coordinator for the festival, says that some of the local performers who already have their $100/season permit for performing on Sparks Street are helping the festival out by performing at this event. (There was no special fee for those coming from out of town to perform.)
So if you’re still intent on performing downtown this season, looks like you may need to shell out some cash for a license and permit before hitting the streets. Otherwise, head out to the Busker Festival and enjoy the atmosphere as a spectator.