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K Street Mall needs street performers. It really, really does. Situated at the center of the business and political district, and flanked by top hotels, K Street Mall is the gateway to Sacramento for tourists and visitors. It is the main pedestrian thoroughfare connecting the City’s primary tourist destinations: Old Sacramento, Capitol Park and the Convention Center. K Street Mall should be demonstrating to guests at the Hyatt, Sheraton, Holiday Inn and Citizen’s Hotels that Sacramento is a vibrant, entertaining place that they want to return to. Yet, after years of false starts and missteps, K Street Mall remains blighted, lifeless and even scary.
In the past, City leaders have placed their hopes for K Street Mall on special events and developer proposals. Special events do not work on K Street Mall for two reasons. The first reason is that there are trains going down the middle of K Street. Special events with hundreds or thousands of people and trains just don’t mix. The second reason is that the idea of creating a buzz around a place through special events is flawed. Special events are intermittent. In order for a place to become a vital and attractive destination, people have to know that, whenever they visit, they will be safe and entertained. Developers want to know that, too. And although street performers will not end crime, they do provide the “eyes on the street” effect that deters crime.
Street performers create a festive, bazaar-like atmosphere that is attractive to people. They become an entertaining “bridge” between the parking garage or lightrail station and the restaurant, theatre, etc. They contribute to a buzz around a place (i.e., Fisherman’s Wharf, Pike Street Market). K Street Mall needs that type of buzz. Yet, now, when musicians and performers attempt to share their art on the K Street Mall, they are quickly shooed away by downtown guides or police officers.
I sing with a small jazz band called Midtown Jazz. We’ve performed at various venues and parties in Sacramento and have also performed outdoors for tips on the deck at the MARRS Building in midtown and at the Farmer’s Market at Cesar Chavez Park. We have found that playing outdoors for free and tips has a special appeal. We have seen seniors dancing along side young, trendy gay couples. We have had tattooed, pierced rockers listening with families with little kids bouncing and twirling. It’s a cultural sharing and it’s a lot of fun.
We don’t need a complex “Street Performer Program” that will impact the City’s general fund. In this economy, there are a lot of local musicians out there who are looking for ways to make a few extra bucks. If the City just allows it to happen with a few guidelines, I believe they will come.