Busking during COVID: An uncertain future
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And when it’ll come back is anyone’s guess.
Brawn, 63, thinks that it could be years before he might busk in any familiar and comfortable form. Even the possibility of a vaccine in the next handful of months, he adds, hardly allays his concerns, as any vaccine will likely be accompanied by anti-vaxxers convinced of one conspiracy theory or another.
“I think it could be three years before I trust it.”
He says that there remain too many unknowns surrounding COVID-19. He also doesn’t know how far the act of flute-playing might spread the coronavirus.
“And I have no control over what people might do in front of me, and I would hate to know that I had brought people together and created a cell of infection. I don’t want to be any part of that.”
And while he’s taken a financial hit because of the pandemic, Brawn largely supports the current shutdown.
“The ByWard Market has opened too widely, too soon, without adequate enforceable protocols and truly without any substantive or reliable understanding at as to how COVID-19 operates,” he says. “Placing my safety and that of my patrons in the hands and, more accurately, the mouths and noses of flowing mobs of people, minds loosened after an exhausting day with three or four drinks in too short a time under their belts, for the sake my Bach and Handel, is an irony too bitter to swallow.
“Art and joy only go so far.”
Chalk artist François Pelletier, meanwhile, says this is the first year in 20 that, apart from a handful of paid gigs, such as one on Saturday on Bank Street, he won’t be busking on Ottawa’s streets. Between 70 and 90 per cent of his income comes from busking, but, like Brawn, he, too, understands the need for the shutdown, and believes the industry will suffer for some time.