Introduction to ED-BKA - Edmonton Buskers Anonymous

Edmonton, Alberta, offers a wide variety of culturally stimulating experiences; including the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, Fringe Festival, and Nextfest. In each of these festivals, each individual performer must engage the gaze and enjoyment of the viewer in order to request reciprocation of gratuitous payment. The City of Edmonton sponsors many of these festivals that support local and international performing artists for thousands of people from around the world to come enjoy.

With ED-BKA, we are interested in just that - performances by buskers who depend solely on the public's generosity to make a living. These performers are not limited to public festivals that support this group of performers, but can be witnessed year-round throughout many major cities. In Edmonton, colder seasons restrict buskers to underground pedways in Edmonton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations.

What makes the public respond to these sets of performers different? Attending a street performers festival versus witnessing a local performer in a downtown pedway results in different reactions from the public. We are here to investigate the public reception of buskers in Edmonton's downtown pedway system, specifically Churchill station.


Buskers are a visual phenomenon observed frequently at Edmonton LRT stations; specifically the Churchill station near Edmonton City Center based as the subject of our study. Audience reception of buskers is influenced by factors of context, connotative meanings, and ideologies, which establishes buskers as low culture and bad taste. The investigation of Buskers to support or refute our hypothesis will be documented via both video and pictures.

Evaluation of “High” and “Low Culture” Busking

To evaluate the reception of buskers by the audience as “high” or “low culture”, positive and negative responses should be established. The Edmonton International Fringe Festival is an invitation for buskers world wide to participate in providing charitable entertainment to local and tourist groups. The viewers reserve hours of free time to witness busker performances (Red-Bordered Video). In this context, the buskers are presented with a sense of professionalism; scheduled artists with the goal of providing entertainment, evident in their flawless performances and outstanding costumes. The viewer at the Fringe or other street festivals participates in intentional viewing as a willing viewer waiting to receive, critique, and admire. Thus, the big difference with the Fringe viewer and the viewer received in Edmonton’s underground LRT pedways is that of a willing versus forced viewer, respectively. The viewer in the LRT pedways do not choose to participate in observing the busker performances, but rather coincidentally happen to cross paths.

Buskers in the Edmonton LRT pedway are viewed as “low culture”, due in part to the forced viewer, context, and presentation of the buskers. The Edmonton International Fringe Festival would constitute buskers as a diverse cultural experience, representative of a “higher” culture than “lower culture” LRT busker performances. Support for these statements is evident in the differentiation of positive and negative reactions to busker performances. In The Edmonton International Fringe Festival, people respond positively by stopping to listen, sitting throughout an entire performance, applauding, smiling, dancing, and tipping. On the contrast, a greater proportion of disinterested to negative responses result from the viewers of LRT buskers. These include no reactions, lack of acknowledgement or glances, looking away. In the context of the LRT buskers, audiences are more likely to respond positively by stopping their conversations, quieting their volume of speech, looking at the busker, walking slower, or commenting positively (Green-Bordered Video).