On Canada Day weekend, Granville Street will become a cacophony of street music, as musicians and performers from around the world descend on our citys downtown for the second Vancouver International Busker Festival.
Five blocks of Granville Street, from Smithe to Pender, will be closed to traffic from June 29 to July 1, allowing pedestrians to crowd around local and international talent, including contortionist Bendy Em, sidewalk artist Chalkmaster Dave, and a multitude of musicians.
Despite the first festival officially taking place in July 2012, the seeds were planted during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Barbara Fairbrother of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association reached out to local buskers to fill the streets and entertain tourists.
[This years festival] is the same format and same place, said Mike Bonnici, founder and artistic director of the festival. Prior to the Olympics, Barbara sent out emails to the busker communities in order to activate the streets during the Olympics. It was a massive success, there was a diversity of art and some epic, epic, epic shows.
Bonnici has travelled around the country and abroad, taking his craft knife juggling and unicycle riding to the streets of Ottawa, Amsterdam and London, among other cities. Bonnici said the festival isnt only about entertainment, but an opportunity to rethink how the public uses public space.
From a Canadian history point of view, the outdoors are for public use, Bonnici said. The more it is regulated and the more uses are prohibited, the less people interact at the same level. When its successful and well coordinated, everybody wins. Artists can communicate to each other without a boardroom.
On Granville Island, Bonnici is active in the ongoing battle against licensing changes imposed by the Granville Island Cultural Society. The new rules include a fire ban, a doubling of licensing fees (from $55 per season to $110,) a reduction in circle shows (where an audience gathers around the performer) and mandatory auditioning for buskers. Bonnici also said that he disagrees with how the city handles noise regulation. The current limit is only 75 decibels in six metres, which he claims is almost inaudible, and wants to see the distance moved to 20 metres. However, he said that he is very grateful of how supportive the city has been with the Busker Festival, and pleased with how Vancouverites compare to audiences in other cities.
The most exciting thing about Vancouver crowds is the politeness, intelligence and diversity, Bonnici said. People here are very articulate, but also respectful they like to get engaged. In other places, youll sometimes get drunk people yelling at you while you perform, but its pretty rare in Vancouver.
Bonnici said he hopes the festival will inspire attendees, and bring more variety to Vancouvers busking community.
The arts matter, the arts inspire people, Bonnici said. When people are inspired theyre better friends and theyre better neighbours.
The Vancouver International Busker Festival takes place from June 29 to July 1, on Granville Street from Smithe to Pender. Over 150 performers will be in attendance.