It was the day the street music bylaw died.
On Tuesday, Kamloops council shut the guitar case on further conversations to charge, vet and regulate buskers, quashing a proposed street performer policy that drew much criticism when it was first floated last month.
Council voted 5-4 against a recommendation from the city’s community services committee that staff bring a draft of the street performers policy to a future council meeting for consideration.
Councillors Dale Bass, Sadie Hunter, Kathy Sinclair, Arjun Singh and Denis Walsh opposed the recommendation, while Mayor Christian and councillors Dieter Dudy, Mike O’Reilly and Bill Sarai voted in favour.
The vote effectively kills the proposed policy.
“We’ve already got a pretty strong indication in the community,” Singh said. “They don’t want to go down this road.”
The proposed policy initially sought to require licensing of anyone performing on city streets. Performers would have been vetted and paid fees through the Kamloops Arts Council.
The local arts non-profit approached the city with a desire to distinguish performers from panhandlers in the wake of last year’s inaugural International Buskers Festival, which will return to the city this July.
On Tuesday, the city’s community and protective services director, Byron McCorkell, stressed the proposed policy was intended to “celebrate” street performers. He said anyone currently performing on a sidewalk is panhandling, leaving the city in an “odd scenario.”
City CAO David Trawin further explained to KTW that the city was approached about the problem of panhandlers wanting to perform on the same corner occupied by buskers during the festival.
Asked about the scope of the problem, he said it probably would not occur very often. An existing bylaw already addresses the issue of problem panhandlers.
Meanwhile, Singh said he heard “loud and clear in many, many ways” concerns from the public about paying to play on city streets and vetting of performers, with questions raised about what constitutes art and who gets to decide.
Some local artists called for the policy to be scrapped or modified and the Kamloops Arts Council had backtracked on the idea, stating the program would no longer be mandatory and further consultations and research would be conducted.
McCorkell asked council to allow staff to continue working on the policy, due to “a number of issues” involved. Other issues he cited include desire by business improvement associations to animate streets and clarifications about where performers can play and paying performers. The downtown Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association, however, criticized the idea following public backlash, saying the city should have engaged with those impacted.
The city maintained the proposed policy was in its early stages and consultations were subsequently initiated.
Sinclair said the city should stay out of the issue for now and recommended a one-year opt-in program by the Kamloops Arts Council to support local entertainers, with the issue revisited down the road. Kelowna had similar debate resulting in no bylaw, she added.
Bass suggested staff could simply use discretion in problem scenarios, while Walsh and Hunter said further work on the policy would be a waste of staff time.
“I don’t know why we would spend time and resources on developing a policy to address something that I don’t know is a problem that exists. That’s my take on it,” Hunter said. “I can’t support that.”
Those in favour, however, wanted to give staff the opportunity to rework the policy.
O’Reilly said staff heard calls from the community and council for revisions, while Christian added he is in favour of exploring rules that could attract entertainment and liven up city streets.
With the idea tossed, Trawin said the city will now look at an internal strategy to deal with buskers and panhandlers during the upcoming International Buskers Festival, which will take place in Riverside Park and on downtown streets from July 25 to July 28.