Summer buskers help safeguard downtown parks

Musicians Tristan Kline, left, and Zarni De Wet will be part of the 2014 Busker Program for Seattle Parks and Recreation.

 

When people think about superhero crime-fighting tools, they envision Superman’s cape, Batman’s gadgets or Spiderman’s web. Here at Seattle Parks and Recreation, we add a few more items to the list: accordions, pianos, tightropes and guitars.

Each spring Seattle Parks auditions and hires a variety of artists to perform in downtown parks in order to make the atmosphere livelier, more welcoming and, most importantly, safer. The artists are paid $50 a day to play two-hour sets in their assigned park and tipping is welcome.

The busker program began in 2007, dreamed up by Adrienne Caver-Hall, the current recreation program coordinator for Center City Parks.

Musician and current park concierge Philip Craft busked during the program’s first year in Hing Hay Park and saw its positive effects firsthand. Craft said when he started, Hing Hay was grim and uninviting, but that changed. He was playing his guitar in the park and women from the community center came over and put apples and oranges in his case, thanking him for being there. Craft said the women had felt trapped in their apartments because the park was frequently occupied by drug dealers and homeless people, but his presence seemed to invite a different crowd.

“Adrienne Caver-Hall deserves a major shoutout for creating and developing what has become a proactive, talent-filled, community-based, safety-building activation of the downtown parks,” Craft said.

In addition to making downtown parks more family friendly, the busker program also promotes individuals’ art. Busking provides instant feedback and a venue to try new things.

“For us to be able to celebrate their artistry and to help them make ends meet is really great,” Caver-Hall said.

This year, Seattle Parks has a roster of 27 buskers who will perform at Hing Hay Park, Westlake Park, Occidental Square, Freeway Park and other downtown parks. Nineteen buskers are returning from previous years, and eight were selected through open auditions at Belltown Community Center.

The buskers will start performing in mid-May, weather permitting. Beginning this year, park concierges will also conduct mid-afternoon counts to see if the number of park visitors is increasing.

“The performers remind people of our common humanity and create a soothing vibe in the park,” said James Whetzel, a former Seattle Parks busker who helped audition this year’s new performers. “It’s nice to have our parks back.”

For more information about the busker program, please click HERE.