Celebrating self-expression as a basic human right essential for the
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COMMUNITY ARTS ADVOCATES, INC.
Stephen H. Baird, Founder and Executive Director
PO Box 300112, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0030
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The History and Cultural Impact
of Street Performing in America
by Stephen H. Baird © Stephen Baird 1999-2022
The Cambridge street performing scene has a long history with many curves in the road. Please contact me for numerous letters, articles, petitions, meeting flyers and other documents for review. Street Artists Photo-Journalism Project Started documentation project of street performers and artists in 2003. See photographs and short biographical sketch here: The Photos
Current law and application:
Cambridge: Harvard Square is best area in the evenings and weekends. The Cambridge permit is now free. Cambridge Arts Council, 344 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139 617-349-4380. https://www.cambridgema.gov/arts/Programs/streetperformers This permit is good for one year beginning January 1st. You can sell your own cds and use amplification at 80db in a 25 feet distance. Download copies of Cambridge Ordinance Cambridge Arts Council site (Laws are periodically updated so always check the City Clerk office for latest version). Look for the statue that tributes Russian puppeteer Igor Fokin http://www.igorfokin.com and the plaque honoring Brother Blue in Brattle Square.
Highlights of this story:
- Before 1966, street performances happened only sporadically. There are references that Joan Baez performed in Harvard Square during the early sixties folk music scare.
- From 1966 to 1970, Harvard Square, was one of the centers for the 60s counter culture. There were weekly musical gatherings on Cambridge Common and many street peddlers. Club 47 had closed and became the Eugene McCarthy campaign office in 1968. The Nameless Coffeehouse at the First Parish Church was hosting emerging performers every Friday and Saturday evening with musicians spilling out on to Church Street and Massachusetts Ave. Much of the street activity was curtailed after the escalation of the anti war protest in to street violence and the Harvard Square Riots.
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- This August 28, 1973, article in the Boston Phoenix details the arrest and trial of John Westerfield in Cambridge. To open Cambridge up for performances took over a decade Click for a PDF version of the article (306K one page) here
- 1975 and 1977, Letters sent to Mayor Walter Sullivan and Mayor Alfred Vellucci to stop the arrest of street artists.
John Burrill "Mister Bones" (1920-1993)
Mister Bones started his career playing "bones" on the streets of Cambridge in 1975. He augmented many street bands with his spirit. See article: http://www.oocities.org/fredremainslost/b/johnburrill.htm.tmp
- 1976 first Cambridge Street Performers Ordinance passed. Limited to 1 PM to 10 PM and three specific areas: the traffic triangle in Brattle Square, Cambridge Common and Winthrop Park. Permit fee $2. No amplification allowed. Most folks perform on the traffic triangle and Holyoke Center under a private permit system by Harvard Real Estate. Still many arrest and threats of arrest. Street artists like Fantasy Jugglers, Shakespeare Brothers, Trent Arterberry, Peter Sosna, Slap Happy, Mr Bones, Brother Blue and a host of street artists nurture the scene into one the most talented and respected performances areas in the country and the world.
- 1982 Permit fee raised to $5
- 1984-1986 Beverly Woods arrested for playing hammered dulcimer in Harvard Square. New Red Line construction eliminates traffic triangle and creates new pedestrian areas. Letters and draft of new ordinance sent to the city is ignored.
- "Street Fight: Street Performers take on restrictive city ordinances" by Jean Riesman, The Cambridge TAB, June 17, 1986
Beverly Woods on Cambridge Common and Kenny Hoilday on Brattle Street 1986
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- 1987, July 3, Sharrhan Williamson and Jonathan Backstrom threaten with arrest for play flute with digital delays and synthesizer
- 1987, Street Performance festival started with support for Ben & Jerry's Foundation and Cambridge Arts Council. Festivals featured Tracy Chapman and the Shakespeare Brothers (Steve Aveson went on to be WBZ Evening Magazine host and Fox 25 News Anchor. Al Krulick went on to work for Disney in Orlando, Florida and ran for Congress).
Shakespeare Brothers: Al Krulick (right) and Steve Aveson (left)
Click for larger image
Cambridge Street Performers Festival in 1988 with Tracy Chapman
- 1989, November, Attorney Dianna Stallone sent letter to City of Cambridge to challenge current street performance regulations as unconstitutional and submits alternative law for consideration.
- 1990, February, Marcello Rossi and Cyril Atef arrested and fined $100 for performing in Harvard Square.
- 1990, July, second Cambridge Street Performers Ordinance passed after a protracted legal battle including a Federal Law suit, helping a new person to be elected to the City Council by individual street artists, marches, petitions, and extensive community organizing. The new law allowed for regulated amplification at 80db at 50 feet and selling of own recordings. Performances permitted from 7 AM to 11 PM. Performances open in entire city. This model ordinance would not have happened without the diligent work of Attorney Dianna Stallone.
- "Sidewalk Support" Boston Herald, March 28, 1990, by Dan Gerwertz
- "But, how loud is too loud?" Cambridge Chronicle, May 8, 1990, pg 3, by Eric Stahl
- May 24, 1990, Civil law suit filed for temporary restraining order and permanent injunction in the Federal US District Court, before Judge Harrington. Street Artists Guild, Martin Sexton, Sharrhan Williamson, Jonathan Backstrom, William Richard Goodman, III v. The City of Cambridge, Cambridge Police Department, Cambridge Licensing Commission and James McDavitt, Licensing Commissioner.
- "City agrees not to enforce noise rules for street musicians" Cambridge Chronicle, May 31, 1990, pg 1, by Zachary Gaulkin
- "Street Artists Celebrate" Cambridge Chronicle, July 26, 1990, pg 1, by Zachary Gaulkin
Attorney Dianna Stallone, Lorraine Saltre and Brother Blue ... Martin Sexton at Street Artists Guild Meeting 1990
- 1992 Ordinance noise level was revised to 80db at 25 feet and drums inaudible at 150 feet
- 1992-1994 Cambridge Arts Council Director and Assistant Director arrested and jailed for embezzling funds including street performers permit fees. Tensions raised because lack of monitors and enforcement of 80db decibel limit.
- June 24, 1993, Harvard Square Unplugged - Street Musicians struggle to be heard -- For some, Harvard Sq. has become 'survival of the loudest" by Amy Miller, Cambridge Chronicle, page 1
- 1995 Performance times expanded to 7 AM to 12 Midnight on Friday and Saturday and cut to 12 Noon-11 PM on Sundays, additional time restrictions passed for Winthrop Park. Permit fee raised to $40 to support more monitors. Professor Lawrence Tribe writes an opinion with legal research supporting street artists rights to sell their own cds and the right to use amplification. This work was done primarily by Ned Landin with support from his famous dog, "Potato."
This sculpture of Igor Fokin's puppet "Doo doo" is located in Brattle Square, Cambridge, MA where Igor charmed both young and old before his untimely death. For additional details on this sculpture visit the web site: http://www.igorfokin.com The Puppeteer of Igor Fokin - The Puppeteer is a magical film about Igor Fokin, an extraordinarily talented artist and street performer. Igor captivated the imagination of both children and adults with a simple tilt of the wrist and flick of a finger. He assembled a menagerie of fanciful wooden characters on a street corner in Harvard Square and delighed audiences by breathing life into his creations. A true master of a lost Russian art!a! A film by Gary Henoch and Chris Schmidt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ2gizaqVw8
Evgeny Koshewsky, Igor Fokin's son is now performing puppett show here is a video preview:
Evgeny Koshewsky - Wooden Horse Puppet Theatre https://www.facebook.com/koshevskyfokin
- 2003 on Street Artists Photo-Journalism Project Started documentation project of street performers and artists. See photographs and short biographical sketch here: The Photos
Transformers -- Break Dance team from NYC. Spins, flips, mock competions, comedy acrobatics...
Perform in Harvard Square, Cambridge several times a year. Pictures by Stephen Baird June 2004.
- Sharrhan Williamson has posted a FaceBook page with historical pictures on the Cambridge street scene at https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeStreetPerformers
- Current law and application: Cambridge Arts Council, 344 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139 617-349-4380. https://www.cambridgema.gov/arts/Programs/streetperformers
Street Arts and Buskers Advocates
Copyright © 1999-2022 by Stephen H. Baird