Jugglers under bridges, mimes near bus terminals, dancing clowns at street corners and guitar players on the subway could be coming to Baltimore under a proposal up for a City Council hearing this afternoon.
A bill from Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh aims to create alternatives for the city's street entertainers who perform at the outdoor amphitheater at Harborplace downtown.
Pugh said she believes bringing more street performers to Baltimore would help create a big-city vibe, similar to the streets of New York City and San Francisco -- an idea endorsed by the Downtown Partnership, a business advocacy group.
"I don't think there are people who can name five different locations in Baltimore where you see street entertainers," Pugh said.
Currently, most street buskers perform at the Inner Harbor at Harborplace, managed by the Rouse Co.
To perform at Harborplace, entertainers must audition. If accepted by the company, entertainers are worked into a performance schedule.
They are not required to pay a fee, and are prohibited from charging money or selling goods, said Adair Sutton, director of marketing for Harborplace. Many accept tips at performances.
Under the proposed ordinance, which will not be voted on today, entertainers who perform elsewhere downtown would be required to pay an annual fee of $75, while performers at all other locations would be required to pay $50. All applicants also would be charged a $25 application fee.
Like Harborplace's rules, the city's ordinance would restrict entertainers from charging money or selling merchandise, and allow them to accept tips.
J. Kirby Fowler Jr. , the incoming president of the Downtown Partnership, said he plans to testify in support of the ordinance this afternoon.
"Part of the appeal for downtown is variety and vibrancy and excitement," Fowler said. "One of the ways that downtown distinguishes itself from the suburbs is the activity on the streets."
The proposed annual fee shouldn't deter potential entertainers, Fowler added.
"I think there's limited space at the Inner Harbor, so I think there will be many artists who welcome the idea," he said.
Harborplace plans to support the city's bill, Sutton said, and is not concerned about losing a few acts.
"We're not worried. It's a big city," Sutton said. "We have already set the standard. The city is kind of new at this ballgame."
Philip DePalo, 22, a Harborplace juggler and sword swallower, said that while he'd welcome the chance to perform on street corners, Harborplace has its benefits.
"You're in a commerce area, and people are looking to get entertained," said DePalo, who lives in Towson.
He said most performers would probably welcome the city's ordinance because it provides additional opportunities to entertain.
"I think it would open up more venues," said De Palo, who also performs on cruise ships.
The city is working out the details of where entertainers would be allowed to perform, Pugh said. She suggested Baltimore's Metro subway as one spot.
DePalo said that if the city properly regulates entertainers, there shouldn't be any foreseeable problems with unqualified people attempting to perform.
"I don't think it'll wash out street performing and just have everybody doing it," he said.
Pugh said a commission would be established to ensure entertainers are qualified.
The city has not received any complaints from business owners concerned about entertainers possibly interfering with business, Pugh said.
"We're not trying to place street performers on every corner in front of businesses," she said.