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Schaefer pleads with ‘thought police’ for busking licence

Jasper violinist Monika Schaefer took clear aim at what she called the “thought police” as she made her case for a busking licence in 2017.

 Creative Commons photo.

Creative Commons photo.

Schaefer appeared before the committee of the whole Tuesday morning, Feb. 14, while local politicians were discussing the 2016 street busking pilot project and attendant feedback from community members and business owners.

It became clear the notoriety she gained after posting a video of herself (which opens with her playing the violin) denying the Holocaust hung heavy over the Habitat for the Arts decision-makers when Schaefer was denied a permit last spring.

She argued her “political” and “historical” thoughts should be considered separately from her musical aptitude.

“These are irrelevant to busking,” she said, pledging that she wouldn’t audition with a violin then decide to pull a bullhorn and soapbox once on the street, permit in hand.

“Habitat for the Arts, they have unfortunately subordinated their role as an arts and culture organization to that of thought policing.”

She added that she wants “acknowledgement that wrong was done” last year.

Mayor Richard Ireland said council had to make sure performers are family-friendly, and that they wanted to avoid the possibility of anything “vulgar” taking place.

“We can’t control the crowd that goes by.”

Councillor Gilbert Wall was the only member of the committee to refer directly to Schaefer’s position on the hate-inspired slaughter of more than six million Jews during the Second World War.

He called her “misguided” position “poison,” and told Schaefer he could not separate the “aggressiveness at which you expound on both your political and historical views” from her musical talent.

“You present an interesting dilemma to me and to the community on a bunch of different planes,” he said. “There is a time, I think, (when) you can’t pick and choose how you want to be judged.”

He said if he were on the busking selection committee, he would have a “long and hard thought” ahead of him.

Schaefer said he should check his assumptions, tossing a thought police badge his way, too.

Changes proposed for 2017 busking season

There could be bigger changes to Jasper’s sidewalk music experiment according to Habitat for the Arts representatives Marianne Garrah and Dave Baker, who spoke before Schaefer and left shortly thereafter.

To zone or to busk-stop, that is the question – whether ‘tis nobler to scatter the bards across the downtown like pixie dust or to kettle them in one place, possibly the park soon-to-be-formerly-known-as the exchange lands.

The “busk stop” solution tried out last year probably lends itself more to a traditional street music experience, but has its drawbacks according to feedback collected in surveys circulated since the summer.

Some business owners said they felt the sidewalks are already slammed with pedestrians during the busy season and subtracting more space for, say, a songstress would be moving in the wrong direction.

A survey conducted by the municipality shows five of 27 or 18.5 per cent of respondents thought the busking impeded foot traffic.

Two buskers were shut down for being in the wrong place over the course of the summer. There was also some wildcat busking after hours, but Habitat pled not guilty.

Outside the Post Office was dropped as a viable stage when Parks interpreters shared that the music was drowning out their interpretations on the Visitor Information Centre’s lawn.

There was concern over the two-hour limit for performances; councillors and Garrah chewed over a 90-minute set that would avoid employees at nearby businesses getting the department-store effect with the same music playing for too long.

In the chair, Deputy Mayor Rico Damota suggested rotating the performers would have the same effect.

So that said, why not just put all the performers in one space? In this case, they would have to be spaced out enough not to be stepping on each others’ pipes (there is no amplification permitted), and would have to be set up on land the municipality has control over.

“Sometimes I think I would like to be able to sit on a bench and listen versus walking to the bank and (being surprised by) a busker,” Garrah said.

Ireland observed that the point of the project is to help revitalize the downtown and “add that very life Jasper is looking for,” something hard to achieve with a segregated stable of singers.

There are details to iron out and months with which to iron them.

“You believe the pilot was successful,” Ireland said Garrah. “It ought to be continued with, to use a Trumpian expression, a few tweaks.”

Craig Gilbert

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