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Town Council proposal puts cloud over local street performers/artists

July 10, 2019
By LEAH SANKEY (lsankey@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Street performers and artists have been an entertainment staple on Fort Myers Beach for more than a decade and for many of them, this is their livelihood. Tighter regulations on street performers and artists were proposed by Town Council at the last meeting on June 3, and many buskers are concerned about how this will affect their future on the island.

Street performers/artists would be only able to work for tips, would not be able to sell their art, and only eight permits would be issued, according to the proposed ordinance. New regulations would also make it so street performers could not perform on the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve, some of their most lucrative times.

When the street performers and artists come out for the Sunset Celebration on Fridays and Saturdays, the square fills up, even during the off-season.

Article Photos

Noah Prechtel, Fort Myers Beach's human statue, performs in Times Square.

PHOTO PROVIDED

"Street performers bring and keep the people in the square," said Kim Rewa, who works at the information booth in Times Square. "We can't afford not to have them. They create so much laughter and joy. The kids are mesmerized. It is just too much fun and happiness going on when they're here."

Mike Quinn, a street performer and sculptor and Noah Prechtel, a street performer, attended the last meeting and spoke before the council in opposition to the regulations. Council appeared to be receptive and even suggested "grandfathering in" the existing beach artists so that they would be able to sell their art. However, street performers/artists won't know exactly where they stand until the next council meeting on Aug. 5.

Prechtel is a 24-year-old human statue who has been performing on the island since he was a teenager. He said that this is his main source of income, although he does have another job.

Prechtel has performed in Naples and Downtown Fort Myers but says that Fort Myers Beach is his spot and that the street performers there are like a big family.

He performs 2-3 days a week as a human statue during the off-season, and in-season he performs every single day. He is usually painted bronze or silver.

"After playing guitar for about a year I decided to try something else but didn't know magic and couldn't juggle, so I thought, why not do a human statue gig?" Said Noah. "It was the perfect thing for me because I love creating, so I would make different outfits and have different themes."

Noah's performances are interactive, and he says that he enjoys messing with his audience - but only through body language and the occasional use of a squirt gun. He refuses to speak while performing.

"I think that the rules that they've already implemented are fine, necessary even," said Prechtel about the proposed regulations on street performers. "But I think that they should stop tinkering with them."

Quinn has been performing on Fort Myers Beach for the last 11 years. Quinn is occasionally dressed as a skeleton pirate, but he now predominantly focuses on making handmade polymer sculptures in the square. This is Quinn's only source of income.

Quinn previously had a career in production on TV and radio. He said that he got into street performance "by accident," when he was given a drum. He played it outside with a bucket for tips for a few days, until other street performers requested that he stop. Quinn obliged. This is how his skeleton pirate character was born. He said that he worked on the skeleton pirate costume for six months.

"I didn't think anyone would like it when I was finished," said Quinn. "I thought it was too gross. Boy, was I wrong."

Quinn said that the skeleton pirate was a hit - with children and adults alike.

His main focus is now on his art, which he makes in front of an audience in Times Square. His sculptures are made of polymer clay and are often beach themed. He even allows children to get hands-on and help him sculp.

"I think things are absolutely fine the way they are - the way they have been," said Quinn. "The street performer program has been in effect for almost 15 years. I've had a permit for the past 11. There's never been any problems."

"It works out here - we work together. We don't need super nit-picky governing. We appreciate the fact that the town lets us do this here, but we aren't encroaching on anyone and don't need any new regulations," added Quinn.

Quinn said that the town of Fort Myers Beach should take examples from Fort Lauderdale, one of many cities where they allow and encourage street performance and street art. Their program is called the Buskers Program and the program is described as, "Offering a unique entertainment experience bringing to life the Riverwalk District and portions of the Central beach with exciting acts, live music, street performers, and arts & crafts vendors in numerous locations."

The Buskers Program in Fort Lauderdale requires that the street performers/artists obtain permits, as does Fort Myers Beach. However, they don't limit the number of permits given out. They're able to operate from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., the same rules apply on holidays.

Fort Lauderdale allows artists to sell their original work - this includes sculptures, sketches, photographs, paintings and craft work. The performances allowed in Fort Lauderdale include mimes, jugglers, acrobats, puppeteers, storytellers and magicians.

Last October, Quinn said that council wanted to put the street performance program "on hold." Quinn went to the council meeting and was able to convince them to keep the program going. He created a petition titled "Save the Street Performers/Artists at Fort Myers Beach for the 2018/19 season." The petition gained more than 700 signatures in three days. The petition now has over 1,000 signatures: www.change.org/p/fort-myers-beach-town-council-save-the-street-performers-artists-at-fort-myers-beach-for-the-2018-19-season.

Quinn is somewhat relieved about the prospect of the current artists in Times Square being grandfathered in. This includes him and the two other long-time street artists, one of whom paints surfboards; the other makes hats out of palm fronds.

He said that he thinks town council should be a bit more lenient to artists who are producing unique, handmade goods, oftentimes in front of onlookers. He said that this sort of art is a form of street performance. Quinn gave caricature artists as an example.

"They sit there and draw someone for 20 minutes and you're telling me that isn't performance art? They're doing it right in front of you," said Quinn.

Quinn continues to fight for the rights of street performers and artists on the island and plans to create a new petition to prepare for the upcoming council meeting in early August.

"It's terrifying for us when they threaten to tighten regulations, this is our livelihood," said Quinn.

 
 

 

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