A York City councilman is proposing an idea that could encourage more musicians to stand on street corners, strum their guitars and sing to passing pedestrians.
Michael Helfrich said he's concerned that current city regulations might be stifling York's art and business communities.
So, at Tuesday's council meeting, he'll introduce an amendment to York's law that requires street "peddlers and solicitors" to obtain a permit. Helfrich is proposing to carve out an exemption for art and street performers who have five or fewer items for sale -- such as CDs, paintings or books of poetry.
"The main reason I'm doing this -- besides my respect for artists -- is that one of the biggest deterrents that I hear (to) increasing small business in the city is the lack of foot traffic," Helfrich said. "So, in my mind, if we improve the aesthetics of downtown by opening it up to more artists and musicians and poets and performers, this will give more of a reason for people to just walk around downtown and look at things. It doesn't cost the taxpayers one dollar for us to be able to improve the desirability
of retailers coming downtown."
Also, he said, the current rules are both unclear and unfriendly to street performers. For example, he said, if a musician opens his or her guitar case for donations, "Are you soliciting?"
"Anybody can be out doing anything if they're not asking people for money. That's your First Amendment right," he said. "Once you put a CD for sale in that guitar case, you are peddling. You can recite poetry, but if you put out a few books of poetry to try and sell, then you have now become a peddler."
Ronn Benway, a York City musician with West Coast roots, performs on the sidewalk near the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center occasionally. Helfrich's proposal is a step in the right direction, he said.
But successful street performance requires the right audience, Benway said, and downtown workers on their lunch break don't really have time to stop and appreciate the performance.
"You kind of need a good amount of tourists," he said. "It's all about location."
Stefan May, a local writer, said he thinks Helfrich's proposal will strengthen the momentum of York's art scene.
"You bring in the artists, you bring in the business," May, a 41-year-old York Township resident, said. "This town needs culture."
He said registration requirements are "definitely a hindrance" to local artists and musicians, many of whom take advantage of regular open-mic nights hosted by York City bars and restaurants.
"If they knew that they could go out there in the daytime and perform ... I'd think those people would absolutely love it," May said.
-- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.