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
Web site: http://www.communityartsadvocates.org
The History and Cultural Impact
of Street Performing in America
by Stephen Baird © Stephen Baird 2000-2021
The following little historical references are just a glimpse of the depth and breadth of the creative spirit of the human race that blossoms on the street corners, market places, subway platforms and any other place people gather.
FLASH NEWS: MBTA-Radio Threatens Subway Performances October 2007
The history of subway performances in Boston and the country could easily become an entire book. In fact, Susie Tanenbaum wrote her graduate thesis on New York City subway artists and it was published by Cornell University Press. It is a wonderful reference and I recommend it highly. See Wesleyan University Olin Fellowship Thesis by Maggie Starr for her thesis on the Boston Subway Artists. Several other students have written or developed multimedia thesis on subway art and performances. Below are list of these sites and resources:
- Underground Harmonies - Music & Politics in the Subways of New York (Cornell University Press 1995) by Susie J. Tanenbaum The title describes the book well. It covers the ethical issues and conflicts between auditioned and scheduled artists by the MTA and the First Amendment rights of independent artists.
- http://newmedia.jrn.columbia.edu/2003/issue2/story2/index.html Site on New York City subway perfomances done as Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism project.
- http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mta/aft/muny.htm Site on New York City MTA Music Under New York (MUNY) program which is auditioned and scheduled
- http://pwp.starnetdial.net/submusica/pageone.html Site on Boston subway perfomances done as graduate school media project.
- http://www.thetube.com/content/faq/busking.asp London, England, Subway "Tube" site
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/2489361.stm Buskers played pots and pans in central London in protest against plans to license them.
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1370874.stm The London Public Entertainers Collective is campaigning for the right for buskers to perform wherever they want on the London Underground network.
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/1329772.stm The London Underground new rules to allow buskers to play in the network - but only if they have official approval.
- http://www.underatl.com/1a.home.html. Underground Atlanta, 50 Upper Alabama Street, Suite 007, Atlanta, GA 30303 or call (404) 523-2311, ext. 7018 or email email@example.com for more information.
- http://www.city.toronto.on.ca/ttc/subway_musicians.htm Site on Toronto subway music program which is auditioned.
- http://www.cluas.com/music/features/metro-music2.htm Story on subway music in Madrid
- Wesleyan University Olin Fellowship Thesis by Maggie Starr for her thesis on this site about the Boston Subway Artists.
- Music In The Subways by Bethany Knight, paper on MBTA subway performers. http://www2.bc.edu/~lindgret/fws-fall2002/student_pres/Bethany/essay-2-final.htm
Lauren Ingram is just finishing her thesis on the subway performers in Boston. Several of her photographs and excerpts from the thesis can be found at this site on the Photo-Journalism Documentation Project page (click here). For additional information contact Lauren by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The short outline of Boston subway performers:
- Not much documentation before 1976, except the interview of Ernie Saunders by the Boston Phoenix presented in the Boston Legal Battle page, which stated he had performed in the subways during the 1940s. First Night Boston included subway performances in the first event in 1976.
- 1977 -- Governor Michael Dukakis, an arts and public transportation advocate, started Music Under Boston during his first term. Members of the Boston Symphony and other artist (including myself) were hired to perform during rush hour at the major downtown T stations. The program was run by the MBTA Public Relations Department.
- 1982 -- Around 1982, Music Under Boston was contracted out to Articulture (latter became the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center). Artists were auditioned and scheduled.
- 1985, July 18 -- Boston Globe page 69 "Boston's Subway Serenaders" by Wil Haygood
- 1986, April 1 -- The Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center stopped scheduling and auditioning artists because the MBTA no longer offered an administration contract fee and the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center was not able to raise any funds to continue the program. Officially stopped the program on April 1, 1986.
- 1986 -- Artists were threatened with arrest and often shut down for performing on subway platforms. There was even documentation of platform workers demanding payments from street artist to be allowed to perform.
- 1987 -- Subway Artists Guild was formed January 6, 1987. Numerous public meetings, media coverage, petitions and demonstrations. Public hearing conducted with MBTA at Senator Michael Barrett's office. demonstration model program developed to allow performances without auditions, with the right to sell own music cds/tapes and use of amplification.
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Members of the Subway Artists Guild who all put in countless hours to improve
performance conditions for artists from left to right:
Lorraine Saltre, Sharrahan Williamson, Harvey Smith, Elliot Gibbons and John Bigelow
January 13, 1987 TAB article by E. Dennis; May 5, 1987 TAB article by Dennis Gaffney
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- 1989 -- MBTA started to play music over the public address system in November. This stopped most performances during the peak performance times during the holidays. Letter writing and media campaign stopped this practice in mid December. Governor Michael Dukakis sent a nice letter of apology.
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- 1990 -- Formal agreement between Subway Artist Guild and MBTA present by Attorney Dianna Stallone after extensive negotiations and meetings mediated by State Senator Michael Barrett.
- 1990, June 28 -- Boston Globe page 29 "Notes from the Underground" be Ellen O'Brien
- 1991, January 16 -- Colin Matthews, a violin player with a vaild permit, was stopped for performing at Government Center Blue Line station. Letter sent to MBTA by Attorney Dianna Stallone, Powers & Hall, to honor 1990 agreement without litigtion.
- 1993 -- MBTA starts to install 400 TVs, up to 40 TVs on some of the central station platforms. Another letter writing, media campaign, petition drive -- much of the media against the street performers for economic reasons including ABC (Channel 5) which had bought into the scheme and hoped to improve its ratings and capitalize on the monopoly of TVs on all the platforms. MBTA agrees not to have an audio signal from TVs. Other citizens groups begin legal action
- 1995 -- Installation stalls at about 40 TVs. Many do not work and are often in disrepair. Cable company goes bankrupt and remaining TVs eventually vanish by 2001.
Click on image to view and download larger version"For many persons who do not have easy access to television, radio, the major newspapers, and other forms of mass media, the only way they can express themselves to a broad range of citizens on issues of general public concern is to picket, or to handbill or to utilize other free or relatively inexpensive means of communication. The only hope that these people have to be able to communicate effectively is to be permitted to speak in those areas in which most of their fellow citizens can be found. One such area is the business district of a city or town or its functional equivalent....
It would not be surprising in the future to see cities rely more and more on private businesses to perform functions once performed by governmental agencies. The advantages of reduced expenses and increased tax base cannot be overstated. As governments rely on private enterprise, public property decreases in favor of privately owned property. It becomes harder and harder for citizens to find means to communicate with other citizens. Only the wealthy may find effective communication possible unless we adhere to Marsh v. Alabama mad continue to hold that "(t)he more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his private property for use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by statutory and constitutional rights of those who use it."
Justice Marshall from his dissenting opinion in Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner:
The Legal Court Citations section refers to the New York City subway Federal Court Cases and also includes a Boston subway Federal Court Case: Carew-Reid v. Metropolitan Transportation Auth., 903 F2d 914 (2nd Cir. 1990) (Subway) Jews for Jesus v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (1991) (Subway)
Subway performing artist and supporters who went to the Massachusetts State House to obtain political support from elected officials. Including: Michael William Wright, Mare Streetpeople, Jamie McLaughlin, David Fox, Pumla Bhungane, John Patton, Michael Sullivan, Dave Falk, Lisa Housman. Photo taken by Lauren Ingram.
- November 2003: MBTA enacted new guidelines developed in secret that eliminated all electronic instruments, banned horn and horn like instruments (Including flutes and wind instruments), banned all forms of amplification, also restricted artists to very bizarre locations and charged a $25 permit fee. The artists did not receive notice of these new regulations until November 15th and the new regulations were scheduled to go into effect on December 1st.
Resolved this issue after a heated media, legal, email/internet, and political lobby campaigns, plus a petition drive which received over 16,000 names in eight days. Compromise guidelines still banned trumpets and all drums. See this link for in-depth details: December 2003 MBTA Restrictions Battle
- MBTA web site with the compromise guidelines: http://www.mbta.com/business_t/subwayperformer.asp
- Transit Realty Associates, 20 Winthrop Square, Boston, MA 02110
- Contact Jack Wolfson, Asset manager, 617-482-2525 email@example.com
- Two Boston Globe article on September 5, 2004 with update on subway performances:
Street Arts and Buskers Advocates
Copyright © 1999-2021 by Stephen Baird