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Cambridge wants more street performers — so it’s eliminating permit fees

In this 2013 photo, a street musician performed in Harvard Square.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/file

Grab your guitar and start practicing your juggling skills, because Cambridge is making it easier for artists, musicians, and other performers to be seen by a wider audience.

Beginning in 2019, the city will waive permit fees for street performers and more public spaces will be open to those hoping to entertain passersby, officials from the Cambridge Arts Council announced recently .

Jason Weeks, executive director of the council, the permitting and regulatory agency for street performers, said the moves are meant to offer more opportunities to artists who make a living as buskers or want to showcase their talents for the first time.


“Anybody is welcome,” Weeks said. “It’s a terrific opportunity for people to hone their craft and share their work with audiences that are constantly renewing.”

According to the amended rules, the $40 permit fee will be dropped in January. A performer doesn’t have to be from Cambridge to get a permit.

“We have now removed [that barrier], so hopefully the artists’ work becomes as accessible as possible,” Weeks said. “They can get that permit without impediment and get their work to the community to enliven our spaces.”

Other changes include the addition of “performative visual arts as an option, and the possibility of rotating, dedicated performance areas for larger performances,” officials said in a prepared statement.

The changes were made in response to requests from the community, officials said, and have been a topic of discussion for years.

In 2015, a flood of musicians took over Cambridge City Hall’s council chambers and put on a series of small shows to call for updates to the city’s policies on street performing. The event was organized by former city councilor Nadeem Mazen.

This summer, City Council members said they were in favor of eliminating the $40 fee despite initial concerns raised by the administration, according to the Cambridge Day.


While the rules have been loosened a bit, Weeks said that doesn’t mean it will be a free-for-all. If you were hoping to walk out to Central Square and just start banging loudly on a drum come January, you’ll still need to check in with the Arts Council to get a permit.

Performers also must adhere to the city’s street busker ordinance, which sets parameters on performance times, locations, and noise.

“It still needs to work for our residents and retail outlets,” Weeks said. “You can’t go perform at 2 a.m. right next to a residential space. . . . You can’t set up in front of the door to a business; there has to be some distance between performers, so you’re not on top of each other and trying to drown each other out.”

He said the Arts Council will remain in charge of helping to organize the time, place, and manner in which performances can happen, so everything runs smoothly. The city also employs “monitors” who keep tabs on performers and check permits.

Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern, who grew up watching performers create an “exciting environment” for residents and visitors, said he’s excited about the elimination of permit fees.

“This action is not only a financial help to buskers,” he said in a statement, “it is an open and welcome invitation for them to return to Cambridge and enliven our streets once again.”


Cate Flaherty, a juggler and acrobat who goes by Cate Great!, said she loves to perform in Cambridge and is hopeful the new regulations can “go a long way towards sparking a revival of Cambridge’s historic street performing culture.”

“The Harvard Square of 25-plus years ago is legendary among street performers around the world,” she said.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.