World Buskers Festival

Buskers will reclaim city centre

The city centre was always the heart of the World Buskers Festival.

Cathedral Square would fill with people and echo to laughter and cheers as crowds were captivated by street performers. Evening shows in the north quad of the Arts Centre were also special, with the setting sun filling the courtyard with natural light.

The February 2011 earthquake put an end to all that, sealing the city centre behind red-zone cordons and forcing organisers to build a temporary buskers base in North Hagley Park, complete with bars, eateries, bank machines, venues and busker pitches.

The temporary setup has worked pretty well, creating a lively hub among the mature trees of Hagley Park and providing an alternative when the city centre was out of bounds. The Hagley Park complex will come to life once again tonight for the start of the World Buskers Festival and will fill with crowds when the daytime shows start tomorrow.

But, sadly, for the third festival in a row, there will be no buskers in Cathedral Square.

It's disappointing because the city centre feels like a more exciting and open place than it was a year ago.
Since the red zone cordons were taken down in June, there has been an inspiring burst of creativity in the city centre.

There is colourful street art on once-blank walls, welcoming sculptures like Julia Morrison's Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers and a Dance-O-Mat in the city centre.

While there are still a lot of empty sites, a few new buildings are starting to take shape, including the restoration of the Theatre Royal, which is due to reopen later this year.

The city centre is buzzing with creativity in a way it hasn't for many years.

The festival could have added to that excitement and buzz.

But the buskers haven't turned their back on the city centre.

The festival is edging into the fringes of the CBD, with a music and a busker pitch in the Re:Start mall, cabaret in the Mashina Lounge at Christchurch Casino and shows at the Christ's College auditorium.

I can also understand how logistically difficult it would be to stage a large festival with big crowds in such an unpredictable city. Demolition work, sudden road closures, noisy machinery and clouds of dust are not conducive to laughter.

And where would the crowds get a drink, find a toilet or park?

So, perhaps the city centre is not quite ready for the buskers this year. And when a busker-induced fit of the giggles engulfs you, it doesn't matter where you are.

While there may not be buskers in Cathedral Square this year, at least the city centre feels like a more exciting place. It feels closer to the day when laughter and crowds will once again return to the true heart of the city.

- © Fairfax NZ News