April 28 2014

Street Entertainment in Melbourne: Keeping the City Alive

Today and throughout history, our urban environments have been static and we, as the users of these environments, have been the life force behind the built environment. Without us there would be no movement, meaning, or life in the city.

In a rapidly globalizing world, where there is a monotony between cities of the same size, there is a need to diversify our lower level experiences. Melbourne is a city that has achieved this, not through any perceived planning by authorities but through communal interaction with the city. This interaction is something special in that most of the time it is done for the pure reason of expression. Of course street entertainers would put out a hat for some spare change, but that does not deter the need that these people have for expression. If the city were alive, this is how it would express itself.

New life for an unused Melbourne alley

An alley in Melbourne comes to life

Melbourne’s artistic expression comes in the form of either street art or street entertainment. The history of this self-expression in Melbourne city dates back to the turn of the twenty-first century where art came in the form of various forms of street installations, graffiti and, more recently, street performances. These diverse forms of art were gradually accepted by the local authorities and embraced into local culture.

What is interesting about the development of Melbourne’s street entertainment scene is the diversity in street entertainment genres and their accepted presence in the city. Street entertainers have essentially formed a new community that further enriches Melbourne’s diversity and cultural heritage.

What the local government calls “busking, I would call art. A busker is described as “an entertainer who is actively providing a performance in the public place in exchange for a donation.” This can come in the form of playing a musical instrument, singing, juggling, miming, dancing, et cetera.

The range of activity a pedestrian can experience in Melbourne is not sufficiently described above. Everything from solo magic shows to pre-organized flash mobs could occur anytime on any street in Melbourne’s central business district. What interests me about these “buskers” is their perceived social status in society. Anyone would agree that the income received would be meager and in any other society they would be deemed poor and desperate but this is not the case in Melbourne. In my understanding these people are the life of Melbourne. These are the courageous ones that put themselves out there for the sake of their freedom of expression. They should be admired. Most of us work in jobs that we somewhat dislike and the things that matter to us mostly are lost. Coincidentally, this is what makes a good “busker” successful.

Melbourne, Australia street art

Art on every surface in Swanston Street Melbourne

Street art and entertainment in my mind are at the forefront of Melbourne’s cultural diversity. They display how different people of the city are, that we are not all just corporate drones and that the culture of Melbourne is unique and has a lot to offer. This is just another example of the importance not only of the physical environment, but of the people that inhabit it.

In what ways do people appreciate art in your city?

Credits: Data linked to sources. Images by Kunal Matikiti.

Kunal Matikiti

Originally from Zimbabwe, Kunal ventured to Australia to study architecture. After completing his Masters in 2012 at Deakin University, Kunal started working in Melbourne as a graduate architect at a small residential firm and has since moved to a bigger, and more commercially focused firm. With a keen interest in African Architecture, Kunal manages a small blog, www.afritect.com, where topics range from art and culture to architecture and fashion in Africa. Kunal is looking forward to earning valuable experience in Australia’s booming architectural sector and develop the skills and thought processes required to resolve some of the issues facing the unestablished creative sector in parts of Africa. Understanding of culture is an important element of Kunal's work and this forms a major element in his endeavours. Writing for The Grid is an exciting challenge and Kunal hopes to give a different and interesting perspective to an already established city.

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 28th, 2014 at 9:56 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Kunal Matikiti, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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