Why drummers and jugglers could soon frequent Sacramento streets

Yes, that's Mayor Darrell Steinberg on the bucket drums

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg (front-center) joins members of the local arts community and the Sacramento Mandarins drum line in a performance outside the R Street Warehouse Artist Lofts on Wednesday during an event asserting the city's suppo
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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg (front-center) joins members of the local arts community and the Sacramento Mandarins drum line in a performance outside the R Street Warehouse Artist Lofts on Wednesday during an event asserting the city's suppo

A walk through downtown Sacramento these days isn’t often accompanied by the music of street performers. Mayor Darrell Steinberg wants to see – and hear – that change.

At an outdoor event on R Street affirming the city’s support of its arts scene, Steinberg said Wednesday that buskers – street performers who play for tips – have a part in his vision for Sacramento becoming an arts and culture destination.

“I think we should re-stimulate and encourage the art of busking in Sacramento,” Steinberg said. “It is a protected First Amendment right to speak, to perform, to demonstrate and to share.”

Busking itself is not prohibited by city law. But various noise and nuisance regulations have discouraged the practice, which is common in urban areas of many other cities.

With development vitalizing the downtown area and the local arts scene burgeoning, though, buskers could find Sacramento a more welcoming place than in years past.

“People are getting it,” said David Sobon, co-chairman of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission’s busking committee. “The fact that (the mayor) is talking about it is a good thing.”

In March, the SMAC committee held a public meeting about street performers at the R Street’s Warehouse Artist Lofts, the backdrop for Wednesday’s event, to solicit input from musicians, law enforcement and city officials on the busking issue.

One outcome: SMAC is working with a website called busk.co to set up a home page for busking in Sacramento, which should go live next week. Sobon said the website provides “sort of an international code of ethics” for buskers and allows performers to post where they’re playing and for users to search performances happening nearby.

Sobon also said the city is looking at adjusting sound ordinances in particular downtown and midtown areas that serve as entertainment districts. Steinberg said that’s a possibility “but we want to do it the right way.”

“I want the arts community and the entertainers, including the street entertainers, to help us develop the guidelines,” Steinberg said. “Rather than regulate, we want to facilitate.”

At times, street performers might run afoul of businesses that complain about noise or blocking pedestrian traffic on sidewalks. Emilie Cameron, communications director for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said that if guidelines for busking are established, it’s “important that everyone be considered.”

“I think we’re really excited about the idea of encouraging live music downtown,” Cameron said. “We have a variety of venues and opportunities for live music, so I think we look forward to activating downtown and creating what we can to encourage more vibrancy.”

Michael Ray, a local musician who attended Wednesday’s event with his guitar, said he usually plays indoor gigs but occasionally performs on the street. Ray, 31, said he got kicked out of Old Sacramento for busking a few times as a teenager. But he said the past few years, enforcement downtown has been “pretty relaxed.”

Ray said Wednesday’s busking announcement seemed mostly “symbolic.” His advice to the city would be simple: “Laissez-faire, I guess. I don’t think we need any regulation for this. Just let people do what they do, create awesome things.”

Steinberg made several other announcements regarding the local arts scene, including the hiring of Jonathon Glus as the new director of the arts commission. Glus, who spent the last nine years as president of the Houston Arts Alliance, will “help shape the arts and culture plan” for the city going forward, Steinberg said.

Glus, who is expected to assume the role next month, said he visited Sacramento recently for two days and was struck by the “energy” surrounding the arts. “I think over the next 18 months it’s going to be all about the community setting its vision for how art and culture is going to reflect our city,” he said.

The budget passed by the City Council on Tuesday includes a funding increase for the arts commission of $500,000 across the next two years out of the city’s general fund. Steinberg said the hope is SMAC will use much of that funding to expand and improve arts education in city schools.

The city is also dedicating $500,000 through its Creative Economy Pilot Project to grants for local art, food and technology projects. Steinberg announced the city is opening the application process for those grants.