Celebrating self-expression as a basic human right essential for the

healthy growth of youth, individuals and communities


Stephen H. Baird, Founder and Executive Director

PO Box 300112, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0030



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Sidewalk Democracy: Regulation of Public Space

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The History and Cultural Impact of Street Performing in America

by Stephen Baird Stephen Baird 2000-2021This page design and content edited by Molly Hagan

The following little historical references are just a glimpse of the depth and breadth of the creative spirit of the human race that blossoms on the street corners, market places, subway platforms and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.

Spokane Legal Battle 2008-2012

Rick Bocook, also known as the Harpman Hatter, is a harmonica player who performs on the streets of Spokane, WA.  In 2008, he struggled with the city officials of Spokane who were trying to pass massive restrictions on solicitations which would have curtailed street performances. The ordinance was changed by stating that street performers are not required to obtain a business license.

Also challenged noise ordinance in 2009 for restricting performance sound levels below ambient noise.  Noise ordiance amended January 11, 2010.

Current issue is Riverfront Park being treated as private mall with restrictions on public performances: Riverfront Park Demonstration April 3rd, 2010 Noon.  Spokane Police know about it, Mayor knows about it, some city council members know about it, the park board has been sent an email, Riverfront Park has been sent an email It is not being hidden, it is not a suprise, It is a peaceful demonstration that may have to go to the sidewalks. But thats ok with me. It will bring the issues to the frontline.

Rick Bocook reports:  Bonnie Beavers of Center for Justice wrote one of the best first amendment letters for street musicians.  Tina Morrison of the Local 105 musicians union is very deserving of credit for her support of the music culture including the BUSKING cause that I have done. She is very informative, a great mentor on music. Christopher Church a Gonzaga University Law intern, the guy who is out there with me on the streets, also supported the cause of busking.  
George Critchlow, Gonzaga law professor is still helping out.

UPDATE: May 2012 - Noise Ordinance with 100 foot inaudible rule being proposed.
Noise proposal has some fearing for the buskers - Spokesman Review http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2012/may/13/noise-proposal-has-some-fearing-buskers/

Sounds Like Trouble
The Center for Justice and Gonzaga University Law School’s University Legal Assistance program are registering several sharp concerns about a proposed new noise ordinance that is slated to be taken up by the Spokane City Council on Monday night, May 14th. http://www.cforjustice.org/2012/05/13/sounds-like-trouble/


People most often complain about some one else's volume level and never their own contribution to the collective noise level of a complex society. Air planes 100-130 db, trains 80-110 db, trucks and buses 70-120 db, building air conditioners and exhaust fans 70-100 db and numerous other sources of city noise are 2-20 times greater than any street performer.

Only the rich and powerful can get a quiet residence or work place in a big city.... Not the poor and powerless who live next to an airport, mass transit line or six-lane highway. Will Spokane City Council ban recess at all public schools or high school football game because a few rich residents will be disturbed by the noise 100 feet away by children playing outside?

Will the Spokane City Council allow the Police Department to fine and arrest motor vehicle drivers for speeding with out a radar reading because the Police Department does not want to use the radar instrument?  Will the Spokane citizens allow Police to arrest them for speeding with out a
radar reading? Why will the Spokane City Council require a radar reading enforcement for non constitution privalage of driving a  motor vehicle, but not require decible meter reading enforcement for constitutional protective free speech?

To summarize the legal battle:
The following ammendment was made to SMC 10.40.010 of the Spokane Municipal Code:

"A person who engages in constitutionally protected expressive activities in the public right-of-way shall not be required to obtain a business license unless the person engages in business activities. Constitutionally protected expressive activities conducted in the public right-of-way shall include, but is not limited to, street performers. For the purposes of this section, a street performer means an individual, including street musicians, who performs any form of artistic expression. The voluntary contribution of money by members of the public to the individual in association with the expressive activity shall not result in the requirement of obtaining a business license. A person who engages in constitutionally protected expressive activities in the public right-of-way must still comply with all other regulations regarding conduct in the public right-of-way."

To view the entire ordinance in PDF please click HERE.

The Harpman Hatter is a street musician, a member of the Inland Empire Blues Society, a First Night Spokane performer, and is also part of the Think Swing Jazz Blues Festival Band of Randy Pirates in Spokane Washington.  For more information about The Harpman Hatter or to contact him please visit his website at MySpace (Photos curtesy of artist): HERE  http://www.myspace.com/harpmanhatter
or His Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/harpman.hatter

Street Arts and Buskers Advocates

For translations into different languages -- Arabic, Chinese, Italian, French, German, Russian, Spanish or others visit the web site: http://babel.altavista.com

Copyright 1999-2021 by Stephen Baird