Celebrating self-expression as a basic human right essential for the
healthy growth of youth, individuals and communities
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 Baird © Stephen Baird 1972-2019
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. Cambridge permit is now FREE from Cambridge Arts Council, 344 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139 617-349-4380. http://www.cambridgeartscouncil.org or http://www.ci.cambridge.ma.us/~CAC/ Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA permit and regulations. 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 from this site or the arts council site (Laws are periodically updated so always check the City Clerk office for latest version). Look for the statue that tributes street performer and Russian puppeteer Igor Fokin in Harvard Square http://www.igorfokin.com.
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 threaten with arrest 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."
- 2018-2019 Cambridge revised street performers ordinance to inclued visual arts and the permit fee is now FREE. Article in Boston Globe Dec. 23, 2018 "Cambridge wants more street performers — so it’s eliminating permit fees" by Steve Annear : HERE
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 Puppeteering of Igor Fokin -- As told through `Salient Stills' by Matt Gorbet and Richard Lachman. Visit web site: http://www.richlach.com/projects/salient-stills
Video documentation of the great Russian puppeteer Igor Fokin who blessed Harvard Square with his artistry in the1990s… "Wooden Horse" puppet theater by Igor Fokin - Symphony of Strings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jkn1c5083Co&feature=youtu.be
Evgeny Koshewsky, Igor Fokin's son is now performing puppets, here is a video from a festival at
Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea in April 2015
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. http://www.cambridgeartscouncil.org
Street Arts and Buskers Advocates
Copyright © 1999-2019 by Stephen Baird