Austin, TX., Portland, OR., Nashville, TN., Boulder, CO. Pittsburgh, PA. New Orleans, LA. And Cincinnati, OH. What do these cities have in common? Each one of these communities recognizes the power of street performances to enliven neighborhoods and fuel economic development.
The tradition of busking has been around about as long as any musical tradition, and with it comes inherent challenges: city ordinances that limit hours and locations, loitering laws as well as safety issues. Add to that, street performers typically work for tips. In an increasingly cashless society, cash tips are becoming less sustainable all the time
Cities around America are recognizing both the potential value of street performances and what could be lost if the practice declines, or worst yet, disappears. In Austin, for example, the City created a program that hires performers and pays them a living wage to fill the streets with music. They rolled this out last year during their popular innovation conference, South by Southwest. This program has become a major strategy for redevelopment of the green spaces in their popular downtown Seaholm District.
Thanks to a collaboration between ArtsWave, 3CDC and Cincinnati Music Accelerator, a program that encourages living wages for street artists is also coming to the streets of Cincinnati: The Street Stage Project. In a pilot stage of development, this new program features 30+ pop-up performances a week by local musicians across the city. It launched last Friday, May 3, and will continue through September 29.
The Street Stage Project will focus on two areas within Downtown Cincinnati for performances — Over-the Rhine and Central Business District — with lunchtime (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and early evening (5-8 p.m.) time slots:
• Central Business District: Piatt Park; Walnut & 7th; Court & Main
• Over-the-Rhine: 12th and Vine; 13th & Jackson; Imagination Alley; 13th & Republic
The program is the brainchild of Kick Lee, president and founder of Cincinnati Music Accelerator. Kick calls himself a product of his community. He came up through the foster system and discovered a passion for music thanks, in part, to hip hop youth education group Elementz — also one of the 100+ organizations and projects that receive ArtsWave funding each year.
"CMA's goal," says Lee, "is to teach entrepreneurship to music creatives while simultaneously working to end starving artists." How do you end starving artists? Bring in experts. Teach them how to monetize their talent and give them opportunities to do so. That's where programs like The Street Stage Project come in.
At half a dozen locations throughout the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine, residents, visitors and everyone in between will be treated to regular performances from some of the best talent Greater Cincinnati has to offer.
The role of performance art in placemaking and community engagement is well understood. In fact, the National Endowment for the Arts coined the term "placemaking" in 2011. Since then, the NEA has supported hundreds of arts interventions in all fifty states.
ArtsWave believes creative placemaking collaborations like The Street Stage Project are important to the economic vitality of our neighborhoods as well as our region. Placemaking projects in Price Hill, Avondale, Silverton and Hamilton have led to the vitality that these communities are experiencing today.
"Projects like The Street Stage Project provide exposure and an opportunity for artists to demonstrate their skills to a broader audience that they normally might not be able to reach," Lee says. "Steady employment of artists helps communities prosper and create a diversified 21st-century economy: the arts provide jobs, attract visitors, create innovative products and shape community liveliness."
For more information on the Street Stage Project, visit their Facebook page. Or, take a stroll around Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District around lunchtime or early evening to see and hear it in action!