The city of Melbourne is regarded as the artistic capital of Australia. It has a long and glorious history celebrating the arts and is likewise home to many artists. The city and its citizens are known for being liberal, coffee drinking bohemians in a cityscape that would be fitting for Europe with it’s eclectic mix of neo-classical, Victorian and modern architecture. The laid back attitude of the inhabitants coupled with festivities and culture have marked out the city as the most liveable city in the world for many years. (1) Art quite literally spills out into the streets via local and international buskers performing daily to an appreciative and generous public. The support and love of street art in Melbourne has made it an internationally renowned city of street art. (2)
Unfortunately things are changing. In the last twelve months there has been a dramatic rise in homelessness, (3) with art being pushed aside for tents and bedding on the main streets. Likewise the associated filth from people living on the streets such as bodily waste, garbage and drug use clutter the iconic bluestone pavers that make the sidewalk.
The city council and state government have invested significant funds into new emergency housing and social services, but until these ventures finalise in the politicking process the issue remains on the street. (4)
To make matters worse the city is currently governed by an out of touch, conservative, mayor who does not hold the same values as the cities citizens. Cr. Robert Doyle was elected in 2008, literally within minutes of his win he vouched for cleaning up the streets, attacking buskers whom he equated to ‘bogans’, a slang term for an uncultured Australian. (5)
Since then Melbourne’s buskers have been facing troubles from the once supportive council by the cities by-laws officers that bully and hand out hefty fines for minor infractions, tightening of the confusing, contrary and legally questionable busking regulations and also the once free busking permits now have fees. Finally last week the council announced a ban of amplification on the main street of Melbourne, (6) effectively destroying the livelihood of artists and bringing an end to Melbourne’s international busking reputation.
This ban is being proposed as a trial but as these things work out it will most likely become permanent. The council is citing 264 complaints being made about loud buskers, but sometimes fail to state that these complaints were made over a three and a half year time period. Likewise they fail to state if the complaints are from repeat complainers and also if the complaints are city wide. The council is refusing to acknowledge that while there are complaints there are countless compliments to buskers by the public via donations given to buskers. Similarly the council is refusing to acknowledge the academic research (7, 8) that supports buskers place within the cultural and social landscape and that it has been determined that buskers reduce crime in the area they play and generate a safe atmosphere – something that should be encouraged during this homeless crisis.
Instead Cr. Robert Doyle has taken to right-wing media outlets to vent his personal hatred against buskers and art. Putting an undue negative emphasis on buskers at a time when he has no power to deal with the increasing homeless issue, while also heading to election in October 2016. It is painfully obvious that he is attempting to scapegoat buskers to give the public an impression that he is ‘cleaning up the streets’ meanwhile attacking the artistic foundations and cultural heritage that make this city the best in the world.
Want to support Melbourne’s street art?
There is a protest to be held on the 12pm 20th of July 2016 at the town hall: https://www.facebook.com/events/1628420710819829/
Citations & Notes:
7 & 8
Susie J. Tanenbaum, Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subway of New York
Below is new study of busking regulations in Melbourne and Sydney by Julia Quilter and Luke McNamara of the University of Melbourne. It studies the history and current legal status of laws being use by the CoM to regulate busking. The conclusion of the review is positive, but it also highlights the legal ‘greyness’ of the laws being used to enforce the permit system and this recent banning on Swanston Street.
Companion article that summarises the above findings: