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Seattle backing buskers to promote parks performances

City-sanctioned buskers perform at Seattle's Westlake Park. (Clint Karlsen photo)

Wherever you go around Seattle, it seems like you run into a street musician or performer, and the city is actually behind a big effort to get more of them out there.

It started about seven years ago, when the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department began looking at ways to liven up public spaces around downtown. Talk turned to the buskers plying their craft at Pike Place Market, and the city’s busker program was born.

“We give them a stipend just to help boost the profits of sitting in the park, but they also collect tips,” says Victoria Shoenburg, who runs Seattle’s busker program.

The performers run the gamut from traditional blues to classical harp to Klezmer, violin to keyboards. But it’s not just music.

“We have a tightrope walker, we have hula hoops, jugglers,” Shoenburg says.

The officially sanctioned buskers can be found most days at a number of area parks including Westlake, Freeway, Occidental, Pioneer Square and Belltown.

Not just anyone can perform. The city has a fairly stringent program to keep the pool of performers small to make it worth their while, and ensure quality.

“We do at least one audition every spring, a lot of buskers stay on with us and others move on and we bring in others,” Shoenburg says.

The performances have proven popular. Some of the acts can draw dozens or even several hundred, and some have built followings of their own.

The city would love to expand the program beyond the core to places like Green Lake. But Shoenburg says for now, there just isn’t the budget to do it.

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