Street performers can give city a soul

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am


The life and soul of a city is to be found on its streets. In Hong Kong, there is certainly plenty of life, but soul is scarcely to be seen and when it is, authorities are most of the time chasing it away. The impromptu buskers and street performers so commonplace in London and New York, cities we like to compare ourselves with, are all but outlawed. Permits have to be applied for weeks in advance for specific days through a confusing process administered by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

Creativity and spontaneity are closely allied and both are staples of performing in a public place to entertain, practice or for loose change. Our government does not like to be caught unawares, so insists that such activities are planned well in advance with its blessing. A just-ended pilot programme that gave street performers a chance to show what they are made of has been extended, but only at Sha Tin Town Hall for a group of hand-picked people. Whether passers-by can show their appreciation by giving spare change is not clear.

Stage-managing who can perform in public and where produces a concert, not busking or street art. Authorities do not want pedestrians obstructed so insist on tight management and regulations. That robs our streets of the vibrancy so evident elsewhere. Restricting them to a corner of our city far from popular shopping and tourist precincts like Causeway Bay and Mong Kok is not sanctioning, but hiding.

Juggler and mime artist Andrew So Chun-chau, acquitted by a court last September of obstructing pedestrian traffic in Causeway Bay, is cause for hope. The magistrate ruled that while the 50 to 80 people watching his act had led to the blocking of a public place, where he had been performing was a lively area where civic conversation takes place. The same is true of many other parts of our city. Our present rigid, creativity-unfriendly system is not befitting a place as energetic as Hong Kong. Only by revising the permit system so that buskers are welcome and have greater scope to perform can we find our soul.