Panhandling vs. busking: AMP asks Austin to clarify

AUSTIN (KXAN) — You’d expect to hear singing, guitar strumming and more on the streets of the Live Music Capital of the World. Now, there’s a push to make sure those street performers are not mistaken for panhandlers.

Austin Music People‘s executive director, Jennifer Houlihan, thinks the city needs to clarify its ordinances so musicians are not unfairly ticketed for solicitation.

“We have a challenge that there are multiple ordinances put in place for very good reason, that ask people to not lie on the sidewalk, to not ask for money. What has happened, inadvertently, is that our musicians have been caught up – held to the same standard,” said Houlihan. “They’ve been, in the past, cited for panhandling when they have a note saying ‘tips welcome.'”

AMP is presenting a petition to city staff ahead of Monday’s meeting of the Austin Music Commission.

The Austin Police Department, however, says it’s a non-issue.

“We can’t find a case within the last six years when a musician was arrested or cited for playing their musical instrument and having a case out collecting money,” said Cpl. Chris Carlisle/Austin Police Department.

“My guess is they’re probably talking of when we ask them to move from the sidewalk,” said Carlisle.
“We can’t have drum sets set up on the sidewalk and we can’t have cases of musical instruments set up on the sidewalk blocking the pedestrian flow when the streets are open. If we allow bands to set up on the sidewalks, what you’re really doing is forcing the pedestrians closer to the street and vehicular traffic, risking their safety.”

Carlisle says he has to ask musicians to move two or three times a week because they’re impeding foot traffic on downtown sidewalks, but officers consider this enforcement carefully.

“We don’t want to do anything to discourage the music.  We listen to them all the time. Nightly.  It’s one of the benefits of being downtown – you get to hear all the music.”

Houlihan said APD is a great supporter of Austin music, and clarifying the laws should help those patrol officers as well.

“It will make things easier for both our musicians and for APD if the laws are more clear, rather than leaving it up to discretion and room for misunderstandings.”

The Austin Music Commission will discuss the issue at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Austin City Hall.

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