After more than a year of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, busking returns today to the ByWard Market — and for musicians like Roxanne Delage, it can't happen soon enough.
"Everything's been shut down for musicians. It's been very hard," said Delage, who runs a T-shirt shop in the market and is planning to busk for the first time this summer.
"I'm looking forward to it, to work out some of the songs that I wrote in isolation. And it'll be nice to get out and sing out loud. I live in an apartment, so sometimes I have to be a little quiet."
Ontario is now in Step 2 of its reopening, and according to the authority that oversees the ByWard Market, buskers will face some initial restrictions.
They won't be able to use amps, so as to not encourage tightly packed crowds. They're also asked to limit themselves to one-hour sets.
Those who do come out to listen are asked to physically distance.
"It's going to be a bit of an education for everybody," said Zachary Dayler, executive director for Ottawa Markets.
"But we do want to sort of begin to get some animation back into our streets, and so we're excited."
Dayler said he thinks big busker shows will eventually return, but the ByWard Market isn't ready for that yet, given the COVID-19 safety and health restrictions still in place.
New donation program for local charities
One new initiative by Ottawa Markets this year will see QR codes at busking sites, which will provide people with a link so they can donate directly to charities.
The first charity will be The Ottawa Mission, and they'll rotate each month. Ottawa Markets is also waiving the registration fee for buskers, in the hopes they'll pass that along to charity, too.
Dayler said he still wants people to donate to buskers directly.
"It's been a long time since these folks have been able to get back. And I know that people are really excited to see them in the area," he said.
Busker not pleased with decal donation initiative
Still, one long-time busker isn't pleased with the QR code initiative.
"I'm an artist, and as an artist, my image and my performance ... that's my choice," said Thomas Brawn, a classical flute player who's performed in the ByWard Market for more than four decades but says he won't this year.
"An arbitrary decision for me to be associated with any charity, no matter how wonderful, is problematic. And it's disrespectful to me as an artist, quite frankly."
Brawn, who has also played in orchestras for decades, said he wasn't consulted on the QR code idea and plans to busk on Sparks Street instead this year.
Dayler said the goal of the donation decals is simply to create a way for people to easily donate to charities and support the local community.
Ottawa Markets is happy to take suggestions for potential charities from artists, he added.