San Francisco Street Performer and Artist Programs

Street Performer

“Street Performer” courtesy of SPakhrinunder under a CC BY 2.0 license

In San Francisco, people can enjoy art and performance not only in indoor museums, galleries, and theaters, but also in outdoor public areas. San Francisco street artists and performers entertain passersby with their work in busy areas including Fisherman’s Wharf, Downtown, and Union Square. Programs have been put in place by the City and County of San Francisco to organize these street art and performance activities. We outline some of these programs in this blog post so you can understand your options as a street artist.

Fisherman’s Wharf Street Performer Program

As one of the most well-known sites in San Francisco for street performers, Fisherman’s Wharf offers performers access to many tourists who visit the city. The Port of San Francisco has a Fisherman’s Wharf Street Performer Program that issues licenses to performers for activities in the area. Fisherman’s Wharf is the only location in San Francisco with a street performer program.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must be “an individual or group who performs in a public area, for the purpose of providing public entertainment and self-expression.” The program is open to many types of performers, including “musicians, mimes, magicians, jugglers, human statues, dancers, and other forms of expression and any other activity protected by the First Amendment.”

The program is only available to performers and is not open to merchandise vendors such as those who provide “(1) personal services such as hair weaving or massage; (2) the completion or other partial creation of visual art; (3) the creation of visual art which is mass produced or produced with limited variation or (4) the creation of handcrafts, (5) or activities regulated by the SF Health Department.” For these activities, artists should apply for the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Street Artists Program that we discuss later in this article.

The geographic area covered by the license includes the “public access areas between Powell Street to Hyde Street and from the southern side of the Jefferson Street sidewalk to The Embarcadero and the Bay.” Since many businesses surround the area, each performance location is classified by “volume of sound allowed, size of performing group and audience, and sidewalk access for pedestrians.”

To apply for the Fisherman’s Wharf Street Performer Program, applicants must complete an application and show proof of insurance. No screening or audition is necessary. The cost of the license for a performer is $50 per month or $500 per year.

Benefits of the Fisherman’s Wharf Street Performer Program

While musicians and performers are not required to hold licenses in order to perform in Fisherman’s Wharf, the licenses issued by the program are beneficial because they manage “the time, place, and manner of use of the 12 designated performance locations.” The program helps provide “equitable access for all performers while not interfering with the safe day-to-day operation of the Wharf.” The program establishes a monthly schedule to organize performances. Although both licensed and unlicensed performers are free to perform in the Fisherman’s Wharf areas, only licensed performers can schedule performances at designated locations and perform for longer time periods at these locations. Currently, there are 12 designated locations and four 3-hour time slots each day at each location. Unlicensed performers may perform on a first-come, first-served basis for the remaining unscheduled time slots. However, performances without licenses are limited to one and a half hours if there are others waiting to use the location.

San Francisco Street Artists Program

The San Francisco Arts Commission’s San Francisco Street Artists Program issues licenses for artists to sell their work in specified areas of San Francisco. Artists applying to the program must complete an application and have their work examined by the Advisory Committee of Street Artists and Craftsmen Examiners to certify that they make the work they sell. Additionally, artists applying to the program must pay a $20 fee and provide copies of their Seller’s Permit, Business Tax Registration Certification, and personal photograph. Once accepted into the program, the artist is issued a certificate and must pay the license fee of $166.02 quarterly or $664.08 annually. The program holds two lotteries every Monday through Saturday to assign spaces to licensed street artists. Currently, about 400 artists hold active licenses through the program.

Licenses do not cover the sale of certain items. “Food items, incense, perfumes, body oils, soaps, or other cosmetic products which come in contact with the human body or skin” do not qualify as artworks eligible for artists to receive licenses under the program. Individuals who wish to sell these items should request a Peddler’s Permit from the San Francisco Police Department. Additionally, the San Francisco Street Artists Program does not issue licenses for street performances.

For more information on how to apply for these licenses, visit the websites for the Port of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf Street Performer Program and the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Street Artists Program.

Are you a street performer or artist? Let us know about your thoughts on and experiences with these programs by commenting below or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.

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