A&E » Arts

Make way for the buskers

RMOW and WAC announce trial program

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Kostas Lymbertos, better known as local reggae musician Kostaman, has supported the idea of busking in Whistler for several years. Unfortunately, the practice of performing on the street for audience donations has been outlawed in town — that is, until now.

Last week, the Whistler Arts Council (WAC) and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) announced a trial busking program as part of the Festival Events & Animation program.

Naturally, Kostaman has every intention of taking part in the program. "I want to make some money, man," he says with a laugh. "I need to make some money."

And get paid he will, if he makes it through the Whistler Arts Council's audition process, which will be held on Wednesday, June 27 and Thursday, June 28 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Millennium Place. They are open to anyone and everyone but special preference will be given to Whistler locals. They're looking for musicians, dancers, comics — anything, really, as long as its family friendly and entertaining.

"We want to see a variety," says Magda Kwaterska, WAC's manager of marketing and communication. "We want to provide different experiences. We want to see people who are engaging, who promote traffic."

The program will run in conjunction with the Whistler Farmers Market until Sept. 2. Buskers will be allocated four sites along Fitzsimmons Trail to perform on Wednesdays and Sundays as a way to promote traffic from the village to the market. Each performance will be limited to one hour, but beyond that the program is self-regulated. When and where exactly the performers play within the designated time and area is up to them to figure out.

"We thought that it would fit, based on all the feedback that we've heard from local musicians and artists over the years, to do something on this scale as an opportunity on a trial basis," Kwaterska says.

She says the program is "loosely" based on the Vancouver busking model, where performers are auditioned and must display their license while performing.

The buskers program will supplement the Whistler Village street animation program, which features a variety of performers paid for by the RMOW through Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds.

Since the FE&A program was announced in 2010, some community members — including us — questioned the RMOW's reasoning in funding street animation when the audience could do it instead, through busking.

The problem is busking has been outlawed in Whistler since 1989 under a business regulation bylaw, barring the solicitation of business in public places. The bylaw will not change but RMOW staff is expected to prepare a council policy to permit the pilot program.

"I thought, well, why not give it a try?" says Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "Buskers are found all over the place... So if other towns and cities can do it successfully then why can't we as well."

After the issue was raised during the municipal election, Wilhelm-Morden asked municipal staff to take another look at allowing busking. WAC assisted staff in hammering out a program framework and "it has taken off from there."

While Kostaman lauds the RMOW for shifting its position on busking, he says the program is already marred by too many restrictions on where and when buskers can perform.

"I don't understand why it has to be in conjunction with the market and why it can't be seven days a week in that area, since it's so far out of the way anyway, so what's the problem?" he asks.

Kwaterska says WAC and the RMOW are taking a "baby-steps" approach to the program, to make sure all the proper tests are done so they can bring it back next year, possibly in a broader format.

"That's why we're doing the trial period, to see how it works, in terms of the audition process, the permits, the whole self-regulation process and how its received by the audience. Then we'll take it a step further. Naturally, I'd like for it to happen next year as well."

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