Say NO to Performance Artists

Cindy Baker & Cheli Nighttraveller
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
August – November 2001

Outside Midtown Mall, Saskatoon, SK. Classical music blares over the loudspeakers, an anti-loitering tactic. A woman lies motionless inside an adult-sized mossbag. Bright pink, beautifully beaded, she might seem to be drawing attention to herself. No one is looking.

A few feet away, another woman stands silently. If anyone should happen to glance at the woman on the ground, she approaches them with handbill in outstretched hand, saying, “Excuse me, I’m just asking people to please pay no attention to that woman.”

The woman on the sidewalk is wailing painfully. People still ignore her. I have stopped asking people to pay no attention to her as I have noticed few people taking even sidelong glances towards her. I am now waiting until they pass, and then merely thanking them for ignoring her.

Most people read the handbill; some even recognize that it is not what it appears to be. Few people ask any questions, or even break their stride. Exactly.

This is a performance/intervention Cheli Nighttraveller and I developed as a reaction to the panhandling crackdown undertaken by Saskatoon’s downtown business association, The Partnership. Even buskers must have an official license, and display a “Partnership” sandwichboard.

We had handbills professionally printed which were perfect replicas of the Partnership’s offensive anti-panhandling handbills with our own minor adjustments. We thought it was a perfect opportunity to comment on a number of issues which were important to us; the place of artists in society and their value as far as business is concerned, marginalized groups, work and wage, homelessness and underemployment, social support structures and specific racial and arts issues which had recently occurred within the city.

Eventually, a security team comes out to see what the problem is. They cut the music, try to figure out what is going on. As soon as they realize that it’s supposed to be art, they turn the music back on and go inside. Cheli and I make friends with a few panhandlers who understand and appreciate what we are trying to do, though they’ve been at it so long they wonder why we would bother. Other than that, by all appearances, we seem not to have made an impression on the city at all. Exactly.