Sunday, December 8, 2013
The movers and shakers of Indianapolis have put a lot of effort and money into the city's image. This makes the language in a new panhandling ordinance peculiar, for it limits street performance in a way that will effectively ban it in the downtown area. As currently written, Prop 143 refers to performance with no verbal request for money, as passive solicitation. While this version does not ban such activity entirely, it places restrictions that would make it impossible to busk in most populated areas, and after 8pm.
Many performers are miffed at being called panhandlers, and are focused on changing the proposition to exclude musicians and performers from the ban. This petition by the Indianapolis Acoustic Music group wants a re-write to allow street performance.
I understand the outrage at having one's work labeled panhandling, when it so clearly is not. But I also find it highly offensive that one's access to public areas would be determined by desirability. This seems to be the argument for re-writing the proposition, rather than stopping it.
Real cities have a range of activity and of people. While safety can be a justifiable reason for limiting activity, this does not include banning people from public simply because they make some people uncomfortable. There are already laws regulating panhandling behavior. One cannot verbally request money or be aggressive in any way. Still, many city leaders have openly sought the removal of panhandlers from the downtown area, because it doesn't look good for the city.
It's a no-brainer that the artists should not, and ultimately will not, be banned. So why are they specifically named in this proposition? I can't help but wonder if they are being used to do the dirty work...of drawing the line of exclusion between themselves and the panhandlers. Their demand for an exception sets up a dangerous precedent.
If the government allows performers and not panhandlers, then the government also determines what acceptably qualifies as performance (or sets up an organization to do so). By asking for an exception which distinguishes them from panhandlers, artists are inviting the government to regulate their art.
If Prop 13-143 passes with an exception for street performers, it may mark the end for authentic activity in downtown Indianapolis.