Ousted Buskers to Settle ACLU Backed Lawsuit

street-performersLast year spelled bad news to street performers, also known as buskers, in Saugatuck, Michigan. Street performers throughout Saugatuck had been told they must obtain permits before performing on sidewalks in an attempt to earn tips. Street performers fell under the Public Entertainment Ordinance, making it much more difficult for buskers to busk.

That might be coming to a change thanks to a settlement backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU).

Last year, shortly after buskers were asked to cease their performances, Christopher Waechter and Gabriel Novak filed a lawsuit with the United States District Court in Grand Rapids claiming that the prohibition against street performance was unconstitutional as long as they were performing in public areas. The lawsuit states that enforcing the Public Entertainment Ordinance violates the Waechter’s and Novak’s free speech.

Filed March 26th, 2015, the proposed judgment will release claims against the city and city leaders, while allowing buskers to return to their beloved street corners. The lawsuit settlement payment will provide $7,500 to Waechter and Novak, as well as allow street performers to perform on any public space without the need to acquire a permit.

Novak was jailed after he stated that he had the right to play on city sidewalks. Waechter complied when police officers said he couldn’t play without a permit, but quickly stopped busking as the only allowed place, a public park, didn’t provide enough foot traffic.

buskers-quoteAccording to the ACLU, Saugatuck’s Public Entertainment Ordinance, required that businesses who wish to host an event acquire a permit 60 days prior to the event, hold related insurance and even provide toilets and parking to attendants. While a reasonable request of an event hosted by a business, this ordinance was also being applied to street performers. How could they possibly comply?

The city responded by saying that not all of the requirements in the Public Entertainment Ordinance apply in every situation, such as with street performers. The concern of city representatives was that street performers might interfere with foot traffic and cause congestion problems. They further stated that buskers can perform in public parks, not sidewalks, without a permit.

Lawsuit settlement cases such as these are often resolved with consent judgment, which is still pending in this particular case. Waechter and Novak hope to receive a settlement payment as well as reform the laws of Saugatuck, MI to allow street performers to play in the sidewalk for tips.