.Front Page


.Student Life

.Science & Environment

.Arts & Entertainment




.People & Places

.Women's Life

.Military Matters





.About Us



Opinion by Franzisha Fenger, staff writer

The shiny and happy world of the Kalakaua street performers rests on a strange interpretation of Honolulu’s city law prohibiting peddling. Because freedom of speech is the right of every American citizen, the Honolulu Police Department cannot prohibit performing on Kalakaua Avenue, so long as the performers do not request money. Viewers can make donations, however, if the performers ask for money, they can be ticketed or even arrested. In 2005, eight performers were arrested.

The biggest problem, the police have been quoted as saying in a number of articles in the local newspapers, is not the performers themselves, but the viewers. When a crowd gathers because of an artist, it blocks the whole sidewalk, police say, and pedestrians must step onto the street to get past. This safety problem is potentially dangerous part. People could get hurt, but because of the performer’s freedom of speech, police say, they must ask the crowd to move, which it usually doesn’t do willingly.

Passing pedestrians have little influence with city government, especially if they enjoy the performers and aren’t complaining. Merchants are another group altogether; they pay high rents, they vote in local elections; they support local politicians; and they complain loudly about too many performers in front of their stores that won’t let potential shoppers pass.

In 1994, after being arrested, saxophone player Steve Sunn, known as Sonny Beethoven, sued Honolulu and its police department for violating his constitutional right of freedom of speech. He won, and got $45,000 from the city. Beethoven performed regularly until a few years ago.

In April 2000, merchant complaints, primarily, pushed the City Council and the Mayor to pass a law restricting street performers to six designated sidewalk locations. These designated areas were either far away from the storefronts of Kalakaua Avenue, or they were so small no crowd could gather.

The American Civil Liberal Union (ACLU), in support of the Kalakaua street performers’ free speech rights, sued the city of Honolulu, and more than a year later, in December 2001, the law was found unconstitutional. By then, of course, deprived of their livelihood, many of the street performers had moved away.

Over the past four years, the performers returned to Kalakaua, and they have recently been so successful that merchant jealousy has again reared its ugly head, and a new proposal has gained early approval by Honolulu’s City Council. This bill would prohibit the performers from staying on Kalakaua Avenue between Lewers Street and Uluniu Avenue during the hours of 7 to 10 p.m., nightly.

Again, the ACLU has stated its opposition to the prohibition based on First Amendment considerations.

At a second hearing Dec. 7, the City Council passed these restrictions into law, but on Jan. 3, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman threatened to veto it, rather than face another ACLU lawsuit, and proposed his own bill, which would restrict performers to specific locations and require purchase of a $20 semiannual permit.

The first performing artists came to the Kalakaua Avenue in the early 1980s. Nowadays, there are so many performers, it is hard to keep track of them all. Most of the artists are from the mainland: henna painters, gold men, silver men, music machines, acrobats, freestylers, and more. There are more male than female performers, but no apparent age distinction. Performers in their middle 20s stand right next to 50-year-old painters.

Do the street performers really earn their living by showing their talent on Kalakaua? One of the most popular performers reported that he made $300 an hour by demonstrating his soccer skills. A local resident who used to be a soccer coach, he rarely performs now, although he was seen recently in television news clips featuring the performers.

Visitors and residents have different opinions about the performers. Some enjoy the art, others are just annoyed, especially if they have been harassed been by a performer demanding money. (Mayor Hanneman has indicated that his office has received complaints.)

For HPU student Toraya Basiliali, the Kalakaua street performers add a lot of color to the Waikiki nights. She has never seen anything like them before.

Lucy Van Moeren, who came here for vacation, was also impressed by the variety of performances.
Although the relationship between the performers and the police, and the performers and the local merchants, has occasionally been adversarial, the entertainment they provide now is one of the attractions that draws people to the golden sidewalks of Kalakaua Avenue for which Waikiki is so famous.




Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Web site designed by Robin Hansson.and maintained by Christina Failma