Remember way back in February when I talked about how the city was quadrupling the price of a street performance permit and I wailed and gnashed my teeth about how this was a death blow to the creative core of the city—yet another victory for gentrification over authentic identity? Well turns out that our all knowing-aldermen have decided to inflict another, even more absurd and Orwellian stipulation on anyone who wants to share their art with the public: an audition.
You heard me right. St. Louis now requires street artists to be vetted by the (assuredly sophisticated and non-biased) tastes of a committee of bureaucrats, comptrollers and sinecurists before being permitted to perform.
Where to begin with the problems. First off, does it strike no one as absurdly hubristic that the Board of Aldermen has declared themselves as the ultimate arbiters of “good art”? Could they not at least have gotten the curator for the Contemporary Art Museum or the Kemper to take a moment out of his busy schedule to pass judgement on the music of Brown Bottle Fever? Do we really trust an “administrative assistant in the Street Department” to decide what kind of art we all ought to have access to? The very thought of an artist whose worked their entire life to hone a skill, a routine, to become great at their instrument, to bring light to human life, being subjected to a checkmark evaluation by some bean counter is laughable. It’s positively insane.
This regulation is another victory for the forces of uniformity and conformity. The purpose of auditioning performers before allowing them to perform has nothing to do with preventing “nuisance” and everything to do with making the city more bland, more inoffensive and more gentrified. We are watching the gradual Chesterfieldication of St. Louis—a city with a proud history of trouble-making weirdos doing their own thing is being transformed by bureaucratic fiat into another unremarkable suburb.
While the enforcement of an audition process and the charging of an exorbitant fee for street performers will not be the final nail in the coffin of St. Louis’s culture and art scene, it is indicative of a disturbing trend. When a city no longer allows its art—its lifeblood—to flow freely through its streets, its very tissue begins to necrotize. Without nurturing the souls of its people, the city’s own soul will die.
Despite all my doom and gloom, there is yet hope that our overlords will be forced to see reason. The oft-anonymous and unsung heroes of the American Civil Liberties Union have brought suit against the city claiming (correctly, I might add) that these stipulations and requirements are unconstitutional. According to Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-Eastern Missouri, these policies "outlaw expressive activity that is protected by the first amendment, they also violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it is unclear where performances are forbidden. Even carolers could face arrest for singing at public places in St. Louis." And do we want poor old Gramma Em to get arrested for trying to bring holiday cheer to the people? Of course not. So, St. Louisans, don’t let your hearts sink too low yet. Keep singing, keep dancing, keep on doing your thing. They can’t keep us down.