New rules for street performers

Cue the sad trombone.

Street performers in Santa Fe face new restrictions on when and where they can perform and more regulatory oversight after the City Council approved changes to the busking ordinance Wednesday night.

Complaints from some Plaza vendors and businesses that street performers can be a nuisance, with unwelcome clamor and sometimes aggressive and illegal antics, were the impetus for the changes. But some street performers, also known as buskers, see increased city regulation as an obstacle to their livelihoods, if not an infringement on their civil rights and an insult to their art.

A letter to the city from the American Civil Liberties Union warned that the measure could impose restrictions that encroach on the musicians’ right to free speech; nonetheless, the City Council adopted the changes on a unanimous vote. The changes take effect May 12.

Licensed busker Angele Kunkowski, a guitarist and singer, was among the half-dozen artists who spoke out against the new ordinance.

“Reconsider what Santa Fe really is,” Kunkowski said. “Is it a commerce center, or is it a center of cultural inclusivity?”

Plaza vendors, such as Leigh Murphy, co-owner of the Kernels’ Kettle Corn stand, welcomed stricter oversight of the buskers. Murphy said the street performers are getting a free ride that others doing business on the Plaza are not, and they’re not being held as accountable as the vendors.

“It’s still a mystery to me that aside from the buskers, everyone else must have a permit specifically for the Plaza,” Murphy said.

Under the new ordinance, buskers applying for a license from the city must declare what type of performance they intend to put on — juggling, music or dance, for instance. They must have a photo identification available while performing. They must stay at least 50 feet away from each other and other vendors. They must not be audible at a distance of 50 feet, and sound amplification can only be used between 1 and 3 p.m. daily and never on the Plaza.

Every two hours, street performers will be required to move at least 100 feet, and those on the Plaza must leave after two hours of performance. Performing on the Plaza bandstand is prohibited, and so is use of public power outlets or portable generators. Performances involving fire, spray paint or aerosol are banned.

During scheduled festivals on the Plaza, such as Indian Market, Spanish Market, arts and crafts fairs, the Fiesta, and midday or evening performances at the Plaza Community Stage, buskers will only be allowed to perform with written permission from the event’s sponsor.

The option of buying a 30-day busker’s license for $10 was eliminated, and now only the $35 license for one calendar year remains.

Penalties for violating the ordinance have not changed. A violation is punishable in municipal court by a fine of up to $500, and buskers could lose their licenses.

The council will review and consider the impact of the new ordinance within six months.

Contact Patrick Malone at 986-3017 or