City’s artists fight proposed panhandling crackdown

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INDIANAPOLIS – Changes to the city’s panhandling ordinance are soon to be voted on, but a campaign by local artists and musicians could halt the proposal.

On a lot of nights, you’ll find Phil Christopher and his friends playing or getting ready for their next gig.

“All of us … have been street performers for 20 years or more,” Christopher said.

It’s the street that has Christopher doing more than just performing, though. He’s spearheading an effort to fight the city’s proposed change to its panhandling ordinance.

The proposal is meant to crack down on panhandlers who city leaders say detract tourists and cut the city’s economic gain.

However, it includes those “passively standing or sitting, performing music, singing or other street performance with a sign or any other indication that a donation is being sought.”

That means if the ordinance passes, street performers will also be kept away from places where money is exchanged, like parking meters and outdoor cafes.

“It’s maybe the saddest thing I’ve seen in 20 years living in this city,” Christopher said.

The bill’s co-sponsor, councilor Jeff Miller, has gotten a lot of calls and emails. In fact, an online petition has already garnered more than 1,000 signatures in just a few days.

“We’re really seriously looking at what we can do to alleviate some of the issues,” Miller said.

Miller said the bill had to include street performers or the city would likely be sued for picking and choosing who can solicit.

“Whether you are soliciting via a cup or soliciting via a guitar or drum set, it’s all still solicitation and so we couldn’t distinguish legally between the two,” Miller said.

Still, Christopher is worried about any mention of street performers, especially for groups like Indy Fringe and Arts for Change, who raise money for charity through annual street events.

The city does not have a permitting process for individual performers and Miller said creating permits would be very complicated and unlikely.

The city-county council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Monday. It could go back to committee again if they want to re-consider the concerns of artists like Christopher.