License to busk

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is gathering community input for a proposal that would require street performers to obtain a permit from the Ashland Chamber of Commerce before taking their acts public.

"Nothing is concrete" about the proposal, cautioned OSF Associate Producer Claudia Alick, who wrote the draft proposal, titled, "Ashland Busking Guidelines."

Alick said she isn't sure which route OSF will take for getting the proposal in front of the City Council, but that her focus right now is on forming a policy that everyone can agree with.

She said OSF has had some issues with homeless people loitering outside of the Black Swan Theatre and on the walkway connecting OSF's campus to East Main Street, property that the festival leases from the city. Permit requirements may be limited to people performing in those areas, Alick said, but OSF is considering proposing a citywide requirement or the establishment of additional popular performance areas where permits would be required to play.

"This could really enhance the opportunities for street performers in Ashland," Alick said. "You can actually make a viable living out of busking. "… I think it could help separate the performers from the people who are just hanging out and asking for money."

Alick introduced the proposal to about 20 members of the Ashland Citizens' Coalition last week, and, after receiving mostly criticism, agreed to bring back a revised version for its Sept. 15 meeting.

There are currently no laws that prevent people from busking — or street performing — on public property in Ashland, and some members of the coalition and street performers don't see the point of forming any.

"I think it's just a way to run people out of town," said busker Chris Gruelle, 23, of Ashland. "What it's going to do is wipe out a good thing we already have going on down here."

Gruelle's playing partner, Dan Runnells, 32, of Ashland, said the proposal might be a good thing for performers trying to make an honest day's pay.

"It might keep people from treating us like bums," he said. "We have a house, and we pay taxes. They give all of us actually doing something a bad name. "… We're not homeless, we just do it for a little extra money."

Alick said she formed her proposal mostly from a set of busking guidelines that have been adopted by the city of Philadelphia. Alick is currently working out the intricacies of the Ashland proposal, which could include time limits for performers, limitations on equipment and regulations on noise levels.

Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said the police don't have much trouble with Ashland's buskers now, and the only time buskers can be asked to stop playing is if they are on private property or violating another city ordinance, such as creating a public nuisance or being too loud.

Holderness said he sat down with Alick while she was forming the first draft of the guidelines.

"I think it's a good idea," he said. "It might improve some of the other activities that we see happening down there."

Holderness said APD has responded multiple times to reports of drug and alcohol use outside the Black Swan and people disturbing the public.

"The bottom line is that I just don't see the incentive for performers to want something like this," said City Councilwoman Carol Voisin, a member of the city's Homelessness Steering Committee and its liaison to the citizens' coalition. "Some of the language I thought was rather demeaning "… implying that our street performers are causing a problem, which I don't think is the case."

The Homelessness Steering Committee will meet on Sept. 20 to consider possible solutions to the problem of homeless people hanging out downtown that would then be forwarded to the City Council. The meeting would be the first opportunity for OSF to officially get the wheels turning on its busking guidelines.

Alick said she was happy to hear last week's remarks from the homeless community and citizens' coalition, and is looking forward to the next opportunity for feedback because "this document has to be made in collaboration with that community," she said.

"I think this could be a great thing for the environment downtown "… and potentially attract more established performers," Alick said. "It's just such a baby of an idea right now, and who knows if this is the solution, but ultimately the goal is to have public places that are pleasant for everyone."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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