A Historical Look
Busking is a centuries-old tradition
Busking, or street performing, is a centuries-old tradition of entertainers performing for tips in public areas. In medieval Europe, local merchants would invite entertainers to their storefronts, plazas and public squares to attract pedestrians and increase business.
The roots of the American busking tradition lie in the numerous circuses that once migrated from coast to coast. Barnstorming from town to town, circus performers adjusted their comic, sword swallowing, acrobatic and juggling talents for street corners and soon became a mainstay in American street culture.
Benefits to Society
Street performers attract the public into an area and encourage them to browse from performer to store to restaurant and back to performer. This creates a mutually beneficial commercial environment for the stores, performers and the public.
Street performers cost the city and stores nothing and attract large crowds of people who are introduced to the other establishments during their visits to see the performers. The public benefits because it is exposed to a variety of quality entertainment for a minimum of expense and they can feel a part of the process of supporting the arts.
There is also a benefit which can’t be gauged in terms of dollars and cents. Performers encourage people to know each other and to be connected.
Busk is legal
Busking is a constitutional right.
Federal court cases have given street performances First Amendment protection since Goldstein v. Town of Nantucket, 477F. Supp., 606 (1979). There are many court cases where activities on sidewalks, streets, parks, subway platforms, bus stations, and airports were determined to be First Amendment forums.
Necessity and limits of busking regulations
Even if busking is a constitutional right, regulations can be helpful because they can describe in detail what activities the police can regulate and set specific limits on enforcement. Regulations can also help street artists come to terms with overcrowded performance locations and excessive volume conflicts.
However, cities and towns are required to find the least restrictive means for regulating First Amendment expression such as street performing. Generally, there should be a minimum of specific geographic location exclusions and time restrictions upon street performing.
Individual busking can be categorized into three based on its legal status regarding permit. First, in some cities such as the said Cambridge, Buffalo, Toledo, buskers perform on the streets with a permit issued under a busking legislation. Secondly, in some cities like Pittsburgh, buskers should get a temporary permit issued under different legislations which have little to do with busking. Finally, buskers in many cities perform on the streets without any permit and frequently suffer police problems.