City of Gainesville looking for performers for busker focus group

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The City of Gainesville is looking for performers to take part in a focus group that will help create guidelines for a new city initiative that would allow creatives to perform street shows in downtown Gainesville.

The city commission has set aside $25,000 to start the program, which would be managed by the Gainesville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Department. The focus groups met on Monday and will meet Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Performers who are interested in taking part in the focus group must RSVP.

The purpose of the street show performances will be to bring more live entertainment to downtown Gainesville and to compensate buskers or people who perform any entertainment act in street shows for monetary donations.

“We are going to be able to pay for buskers to perform all kinds of various mediums of performance downtown,” said Chelsea Carnes, an event coordinator in the department. “It will hopefully bring some life to the streets of downtown Gainesville, some entertainment, and… put some money in some local artists’ pockets.”

City Commissioner David Arreola said the goal of this initiative is to empower creatives.

“It’s hard when you are trying to start as an artist,” Arreola said. “It’s hard when you’re trying to have opportunities to play. So not only are we giving them the opportunity to play out in the public but we’re giving them the opportunity to get paid while they are doing it.”

The idea for the initiative came from street performers who requested compensation for their work.

“We’ve always had a number of street performers come to city commissioners, really asking for permission,” Arreola said. “They don’t have to ask. It is a public right of way so there has never been a ban on street performing. This time, we had some folks from the community propose the idea of creating a program where there would actually be paid street performers.”

Other towns that have adopted similar initiatives that compensated street performers, showed that street performers enhance the cultural experience of visiting downtown and make streets safer, Carnes said.

The guidelines for this pilot program are still in the works but will be published once they are established. There will be a process for hiring the buskers that perform as a part of the program.

The guidelines will be created through evidence-based practices with three methods.

First, the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Department is conducting research on other cities that have similar initiatives to see what has best worked for them, Carnes said. Once created, the performer focus group  will gather insight on performers themselves, what makes them feel safe and comfortable, what would be a reasonable amount to pay them, what areas of town do they feel would be best for them to perform, she said.

The third method of gathering evidence will be a survey the city will develop and send out to downtown businesses to collect their insights. “They are stakeholders in this initiative and we want to know what would be best for their clients and business or if they have any questions and what insights they have that might help us best create the guidelines for this initiative,” Carnes said.

The performer focus group and the other methods of collecting data are important to ensure all stakeholders are a part of the decision making. “We want to gather insights,” Carnes said. “I myself am a performer. I’m a multi-instrumentalist, and I’ve performed street performances so we want to talk to people who have done it and get their insight and recreate rules and guidelines to see what would make them feel safe and comfortable and excited about the program.”

Arreola said the city wants to make sure that everyone is getting an opportunity to participate.

Yessenia Perez, 21, said she supports the initiative and pilot program. The downtown resident said she believes it would bring a lot of benefits.

“I think it is a great way to provide space for creatives and artists to showcase their skills, showcase their talent, and just have a space where they can do all of that,” she said. “…Some of these people may depend on getting paid for their talents for their livelihood, so having this space could be pretty monumental to them.”

Perez is also looking forward to seeing performers on the streets of downtown Gainesville from her apartment.

“I moved downtown fully expecting to be immersed in the more social and noisier environment, but I would personally probably try to look out the window to see if I can watch any performers from up in my apartment,” Perez said.

Arreola said he would like for there to be diversity in the performances and groups that participate in the program so different as to cater to all audiences that come to street shows.

“We didn’t want this to just be for either one genre of music or one group of musicians who are well connected with each other,” he said. “We wanted this to be an opportunity that was spread to multiple genres of musicians and multiple musicians … from all areas of our city.”

The program is an opportunity to bridge a gap within the arts culture with diverse performers, Arreola said.

“There is a significant racial disparity in who receives art funding. So I wanted to make sure one of the points I made was that this is being offered and promoted actively in all spaces and all communities in Gainesville, particularly the Black community, the Hispanic community, the various international communities we’ve got here,” Arreola said.

Carnes said she believes that pedestrians, businesses, and performers will reap many benefits from this program.

Carnes said she hopes the program can enhance the vibrancy of downtown culture and pedestrian life, and provide paid opportunities for performers while supporting local businesses. “There is so much talent in Gainesville, this is just one of many ways to kind of engage that talent and pay them for their work in the community,” Carnes said.

Once the department gathers insights from stakeholders, the next step will be to create the guidelines, hire the performers and launch the program this summer, Carnes said.

The collected information will help ensure that the right artist is being placed at the right business so customers or businesses don’t feel disrupted, Arreola said.

“We want to make sure that the downtown businesses are partners in this endeavor as well,” Arreola said. “We want it to be a cooperative effort from all fronts.”

Perez said she is looking forward to the energy street performers will bring to her downtown neighborhood.

“I think having focus groups can make things diverse and interesting, especially being able to create a space for several different types of people to congregate together,” Perez said.

About Tatyana White

Tatyana is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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