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“Yes, I was putting money in the bank but…” Self-organizing to turn busking into work in Montreal metro

Authors: Piyusha Chatterjee*, Concord University
Topics: Economic Geography, Canada, Qualitative Research
Keywords: labour, work, busking, Montreal
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Is busking work? In the 1930s, New York City debated the question when mayor Fiorello LaGuardia placed a ban on licenses for street musicians in the city (Hawkins 2012). In Montreal, the public and the media debated the issue when the illegality of busking in the underground metro system came up in 1983. Itinerant musicians were not new to Montreal when the metro was opened in 1967 (Chatterjee 2019 forthcoming; Genest 2001) but busking anywhere in the underground system was illegal until the 1980s.

This paper traces the story of how metro buskers in Montreal self-organized to form an association that not just represented the interests of the buskers before the transport authority but also partnered with them and other institutions to animate the city’s underground since the 1980s. The non-profit’s influence over the busking scene in the metro waxed and waned depending on their appeal among buskers and negotiating skills with the authorities. Their role included self-policing in order to stay legal and protect or create spaces for busking in conversation with the authorities.

Through oral history interviews and archival records, including private papers on the formation and work of the Regroupement des Musiciens du Métro de Montréal, this paper focuses on the role of the association as an intermediary in the creative economy of Montreal. In doing so, it addresses the need to reflect on spaces less attended to in research in the context of the creative economies of the North (Rantisi, Leslie and Christopherson 2006).

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