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A complete inside look on the life of a Street Artist, and the benefits that come with it

Kelly Chee

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A busker in Barcelona performs, hoping to receive some tips.

All Isn’t As It Seems

       As soon as Jerry “Steps” Pulovski finishes his show, a circle of applause breaks out among the audience. Some of the viewers hastily dart up to drop a few dollars into his hat, the clinking of the coins and rumpled bills, the quiet sounds standing out among the clapping. After a few minutes, Jerry scoops up his tips, packs up, and heads over the next stationary “stage” for his next performance. For Jerry, the quick cash he earns isn’t the sole reason why street performing is preferred over the standard job, let alone even a steady income. This is Pulovski’s life now. It’s a life that led him to new opportunities and relationships. As he leaves the makeshift stage with his supplies, he glances as the dispersing audience, only to see a fellow artist preparing for another show.

Public Opinion V.S. Street Performers

     Most tourists who visit any iconic location believe that street artists and buskers alike contribute to the spirit and excitement of the overall experience. These same people would also claim that though street performing has its benefits, being a street artist isn’t a dream job, nor would it be a position in where pursuing artists see themselves in the near future. 

             But for many current street artists, that isn’t the case. When asked for his take on the popular idea that performing on the streets isn’t a notable asset for upcoming artists, street drummer Guo “Alligator” Wu disagrees. “The streets are the cheapest platforms for performers to play on. Also, the audience is usually composed of a very unique blend of people.” Wu continues to explain how the streets were a major starting point in his career, helping him kick start his popularity and job offers. He encourages any aspiring artist to take opportunity of the streets. Since public  space is generally free to use as a stage, he says that it’s a major advantage that many aspiring  artists should utilize. 

breakdancer in dublinOnlookers stop to view a city show Breakdancer in Dublin.

 

  Of course, these performers can’t live off only applause though. Even if money isn’t always the sole reason why buskers and artists perform, tips work as a large initiative for performers to do what they do. Street artists in Fisherman’s Wharf perform daily, with hats and cases placed strategically in front of their act, hoping to draw in tips.

  Thai Nguyen, a member of the Breakerz (Street dancers) performs at the Wharf daily. When questioned on the amount of income he earns, he says that they pull in, “$100-$150 per person daily.” Compared to the average American, Social Security Tax records taken in 2011 states that the average income of an American is a little over 73 dollars per day. If Thai is correct, it would mean that the Breakerz generally generate more than double the amount that an American would make in a day. Though not all performers do as well as Thai and his crewmates, based on a study Priceonomics took, the median amount of which a street performer makes is roughly 82 dollars per day.

Yet, though it seems that performing on the streets beats the run of the mill minimum wage career, Thai says it’s inconsistent. “The good days are real good, and the bad days aren’t even worth the gas to get here.” However, still weighed against the idea of a stable job, most artists agreed that performing is preferred over a stable workplace.

Speed bumps and Successes

  Life as a street performer isn’t all fun and games though. When the asked about his profession, Guo claims that his work has brought him many opportunities and relationships. “It brought me my reputation. People started to recognize me. Right now, most of the schools in my city know of me and my performing team.” While people see all street performers as somewhat talented individuals trying to make a living, they should know this isn’t the case in all scenarios. Many street performers claim to enjoy their profession immensely and would choose to continue performing, usually for a various amount of reasons.

Guitarist Matt Tanadio experiences performing on a daily basis. As he goes through his day to day shows, he happens to stumble upon an interesting request; to teach a kid how to play the guitar. It sounds peculiar at first, but this wouldn’t be his last request to tutor a student. For a street performer, it isn’t uncommon for their shows to open up new opportunities, such as gigs and job offers. In this case, it opened up a possibility of potential students willing to pay money for a lesson or two. Aside from the amount of publicity, Wu also adds that performing always brings a thrill, as well as a refresher for his passion. The thrum of the drums, the rhythm and all the sounds flowing together to create one unified beat. He says he started playing the drums at a very early age.

 

 “In my old village, there were many talented people, including a drummer who led the people. I thought this was so cool, so I began to learn the drums from him.” Guo says doing what he loves to the public helps reassure him of his talent and drive.If I hear the cheering and appreciation for my music, this solidifies the success of my hard work,” he affirms.

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements that boosted him to continue his street performances is the effect it had to his craft. Years ago, Guo organized a team to perform “The Lion Dance,” an old traditional dance that Chinese people do to celebrate New Year’s and other holidays. Years later, the government has set up state competitions for these drummers and artists, and it’s all thanks to Guo “Alligator” Wu. “My previous street performances were brought to the attention of the city government. They recognized the importance of my art and decided to organize many state competitions,” Wu says with a smile. He’s currently doing what he loves with a passion that rivals any full-time job, confirming that if he had a choice, he would never change his decision.

 

The Real Truth

Living the life as a busker or street entertainer on the streets isn’t all it seems to be. There’s a sense of pride and happiness involved with this art. No, street performing  isn’t always going to secure a future, nor can it ever have a definite endgoal. Still, there’s an interesting calm in this widely diverse field, and a vast majority of street performers and buskers around the world agree it’s worth it. For many, it might just lead to ideas that were only dreams at the time. When questioned on where he is at currently, Guo boasted, “Our women’s team won second place against two hundred other teams, while our men’s team won seventh place. These were the best results we’ve ever gotten.”

 

Works Cited

Wu, Guo. “Street Drumming.” Telephone interview. 20 Oct. 2015.

Noss, Amanda. “Household Income.” (2014): 1-6. Us Census Bureau, Sept. 2014. Web. Oct.-Nov. 2015.

Crockett, Zachary. “How Much Money Do Street Performers Make?”Priceonomics. N.p., 8 Jan. 2014.  Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

 

Photographs:

Joe, Sue Anna. Guitarist in Barcelona. 2006. Freeimages, Barcelona.
City Show Breakdancer. 2013. Picography.co, Dublin. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Acoustic Guitar Head. 2013. IStock by Getty Images, n.p.

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