Artist + Advocate + Administrator
COMMUNITY ARTS ADVOCATES, INC.
PO Box 300112, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0030
Web site: http://www.communityartsadvocates.org
The History and Cultural Impact
of Street Performing in America
by Stephen Baird © Stephen Baird 2019
LECTURE AND TEACHER GUIDE
Lecture and Performance: Avenues of Self Expression --The History and Cultural Impact of Street Performing in America
Appropriate for High School and College History Classes; University Urban Studies, Urban Design, Art History, and Civil Rights Classes.
- Urban studies, design and sociology with readings from William H. Whyte, Susie J. Tanenbaum, Patricia J. Campbell
- Civil Rights with references to social movements, labor, religious, and First Amendment court cases
- United States Colonial and Immigration History with source references
Teacher Guide can be adapted to Primary and Secondary School geography, history and art curriculum.
Background and Profile on Stephen Baird
A sidewalk minstrel from Boston with over three decades of performances, Stephen Baird, enchants young and old alike with wonderful stories, poems, jokes, and plenty of songs. His repertoire is seemingly endless, ranging from Irish ditties to ragtime to sing-a longs. With leprechaun charm, he accompanies himself on all manner of instruments; mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, kazoo, tambourine, and the fascinating limber jack - a percussion instrument in the form of a wooden puppet toy. His legendary "bag full of surprises" includes elephant, bumble bee and tooth paste costumes to dress up the audience plus life size puppets. Stephen Baird makes a place where people meet and touch each other through art and music.
Stephen Baird, street singer, has toured forty-eight states and Europe, playing on street corners, at fairs, festivals, concerts, coffeehouses and over one hundred college campuses since 1971. Instrumental in legalizing street performing in Boston in 1973, he has since become nationally renowned as an advocate of street performing. He has been featured in Time, Newsweek, People, Nationa Law Journal, American Bar Association Journal and many other magazines, a PBS-TV documentary, and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Stephen Baird restructured Club Passim, the historic folk music venue in Cambridge, as a nonprofit organization in 1995-1997, co-founded the Bread & Roses Festival in Lawrence in 1986, founded the Folk Arts Network in 1982, published the New England Folk Almanac and New England Folk Directory from 1982-1996, produced Jamaica Plain Open Studios and was the Executive Director of the Jamaica Plain Arts Council from 1999-2001. He is currently the Executive Director of Community Arts Advocates.
History of Street Performances
by Stephen Baird
© Stephen Baird 2000-2019
Article appeared in New England Performer Magazine in 2000
From Ben Franklin to Tracy Chapman, Louis Armstrong to the Violent Femmes, the streets of this country have been the avenues of self expression for emerging artists and musicians. Entire art forms such as tap dancing to break dancing, jazz to blues, rock n' roll to rap singing have risen from the fusion of diverse artists who have performed on the streets of New York City, Boston, Chicago and New Orleans. The history of popular culture has direct roots in the history of street performances. Today the streets are still a dynamic stew of sounds and rhythms from around the world.
The emancipation of the slaves after the Civil War resulted in a flood of new artistic expression on the streets. The blues migrated up the Mississippi from Memphis to Chicago. Jazz migrated from Saint Louis to New Orleans. Eubie Blake performed on the streets of Baltimore and New York City. The legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson toured picnics and fairs from Texas to North Carolina. For details see: Historical References
Waves of immigrants from 1870 to the present day have found their voices and audiences on the streets and subway platforms. Irving Berlin and Eddie Cantor are the forebearers of the recent multitude of artists arriving from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Musicians from Central and South America can be found on the streets of New York City, Boston, Seattle and San Francisco filling the air with the lilt of pan pipes. For details see: Historical References
Contemporary jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan who developed the "touch-technique-playing-style" performed on the streets of Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin before moving on to the streets of Boston and New York and greater recognition. Both Martin Sexton and Tracy Chapman performed on the street corners of Cambridge's Harvard Square, much like Joan Baez did three decades earlier. Paul Simon and James Taylor plied the street of London with their songs to earn cash for demo tapes.
For a deeper look at the opportunities and challenges for street performers read Passing the Hat - Street Performers in America (Delacorte Press) by Patricia J. Campbell and Underground Harmonies - Music & Politics in the Subways of New York (Cornell University Press) by Susie J. Tanenbaum. See: Books and References
Web sites to scan include <www.openair.org> (Street Festivals, Street Vendors, Street Performers, Maxwell Street in Chicago, etc), <www.flatworld.net> (Story on Santa Monica legal battle), <www.performers.net> (Stories by Rex Boyd on performing in Europe, plus David Cassel on performances in Australia and tips on how to start out). These professional vaudeville organization sites will lead to many individual site links to noted street performers around the world <www.juggling.org>, <www.magicians.org>, <www.mimes.com>, <www.performingarts.net>. For hot links and more details see: Links and References
Boston was called the "Emerald City" of street performing by Patricia Campbell. Artists can perform in Downtown Crossing, Faneuil Hall Marketplace (Auditioned in March and scheduled April-October), There is no permit currently required in Boston (See this page for details on the 2004 Federal Court case: Boston Legal Battle 1972-2004. The MBTA issue permits for $25. A picture ID is required. It is a first-come, first-serve basis except for Harvard station. Meet at 7 am for a flip to cover the 7 am-12 noon shift, 12 noon-6 pm and 6 pm to closing shift. Amplification is allowed at 80db at low levels and you can sell your own CDs. See this page for links to subway sites around the world plus details on the MBTA permit: Subway Transit Artists
Harvard Square has been one of the country's hottest spots for over two decades. The permit to perform in Cambridge is available at the Cambridge Arts Council, City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139. The permit costs $40/person for one year (January 1st - December 31st), and covers all forms of street performing. It is valid for all public streets and parks of Cambridge between the hours of 7 am-11 pm (till 12 midnight Fri & Sat). Call 617/349-4380 for more information. Amplification is allowed at 80db at 25 feet and you can sell your own CDs. http://www.cambridgeartscouncil.org See: Cambridge Legal Battle 1973-2003
Washington Square Park, Central Park, Broadway show lines, farmers markets and subways all have been stages for artists in the Big Apple. New York City has been in the middle of legal battles for the past 10 years over amplification and performance restrictions in Central Park. For additional detail contact the NYC Street Performers Alliance & Coalition of Artists United for Self Expression (CAUSE) at 212-802-7549. See: New York City Street Entertainers 1700 - 2005
Federal court cases have given street performances First Amendment protection since Goldstein v. Town of Nantucket, 477 F. Supp., 606, (1979). Additional court cases include Davenport v Alexandria, VA 683 F2d 853 (1983), 710 F2d 148 (1983), 748 F2d 208 (1984); and Friedrich v. Chicago 619 F. Supp., 1129. (D.C. Ill 1985). The recent case of Robert Turley versus New York City confirmed this protection and argues only the limits of the city to regulate amplification. See: Legal Court Citations
Many cities in the northeast from Portland, Maine to Worcester, Massachusetts, Hartford, Connecticut, to Burlington, Vermont, to Ithaca New York embrace street performances. Street scenes are more active in the summer months and each city has their own regulations. For details contact local city clerks for the current legal status. See: Model Regulations
Cities across the country known for street performances include Philadelphia, Miami, Key West, New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, Madison, Boulder, Austin, Denver, Seattle, Eugene. Portland, San Francisco, Venice Beach (LA), Santa Monica and San Diego. College towns are often open for the impromptu spontaneous performance with a supportive young audience willing to take chances on new artists and art forms. See: Performance Locations World Wide
The opportunities are boundless. With a little fearless ambition and reckless faith in the moment of surprise the next street corner can become a Carnigie Hall where the most profound artistic experience can change the inner and outer landscapes.
Stephen Baird is founder of the Street Arts and Buskers Advocates and has performed on the streets of the United States, Canada and Europe since 1972. He also founded the Folk Arts Network and Club Passim. Currently he is the Founder and Executive Director for the Community Arts Advocates, Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts. For additional information write or call the Street Arts Advocates, PO Box 300112, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0030 USA Telephone: 617-522-3407 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: http://www.communityartsadvocates.org
Suggested Activities Before the Performance
Suggested Activities After the Performance
Vocabulary Words and Topics of Discussion
Bill of Rights
Related Study Topics
Settlement of various groups of people in the United States
- Native American Indians
- European Immigrants
- African Americans
- More recent immigration of Asians, Central Americans, Russians...
Students can find performance locations on U.S. and World maps.
Students create displays, flags artifacts, musical instruments and native dress of their ancestry.
Skits depicting life in country of origin as well as the presentation of music, games, and costumes of each heritage.
International dinner incorporating foods, music, dress, dance and activities indigenous to each culture.
Sally Harrison-Pepper came to my office to conduct an interview while researching her book Drawing a Circle in the Square-Street Performing in New York's Washington Square Park
Newspapers and Magazines:
Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Service Industry - Street Entertainers: web iste with book references on street entertainers and buskers in London mid to late 1800s http://www.victorianlondon.org/professions/streetentertainers.htm
Discography and Videography
Below are some sample links to articles featuring Stepehn Baird's arts advocacy work. See the entire web site for additiona references.
MBTA Legal Battle November-December 2003
Boston Legal Battle June 2004-June 2005 ... on
Click image for larger readable version
Boston Phoenix Eighth Annual Muzzle Awards Issue Date: July 1-7, 2005 by Dan Kennedy http://126.96.36.199/boston/news_features/top/features/documents/04793546.asp
Letters of Reference
Copyright 1972-2019 by Stephen Baird