How to make friends and influence people badly.
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I said “fellatio” in a speech to UN Habitat

Not intentionally...I was nervous. And distracted. And...well, read on.

The Busking Project was just at the Future of Places conference. 320 ‘placemakers' (people who make creative public spaces), architects, urban planners and academics from fifty countries had gathered in a lush hotel in Buenos Aires to discuss,

"Streets as Public Spaces and drivers of Urban Prosperity"

We wanted to go to schmooze/network, eat and drink the free stuff, and to convince everyone both that busking should be officially seen as a viable way of revitalising cities, and that this should be a topic of discussion at Habitat III, The UN Conference on “Housing and Sustainable Urban Development”.

Big goals, fancy people, a lot of pressure. And, in my speech, I said a word that means “blow job”.



My nervy (but busker-filled) presentation

On the first day, my presentation followed 11 others. Some of those presentations were brilliant, but despite pre-public-speaking-excitement, my attention began to wane. Many good projects were delivered by people who weren’t cut out for public speaking. Like me.

It terrifies me. I was recently the officiate at a friend’s wedding, and went so red that the professional photographer somehow found a way to keep me out of ALL of the official wedding photos. I was standing right there, between bride and groom, holding the mic and the rings, and yet, well, take a look for yourself:

So, for this presentation I thought it would be a good idea to deflect attention from my face. How? By bringing street performers, of course!

When it was my go, I took a deep breath, got behind the podium, turned to face the audience, and announced, â€œHi, my name is Nick Broad, and we just have to wait a second for our special guest”. And with that, Diego Eduardo took to the stage.

(This is how he stood for the next five minutes.)

While everyone was laughing and taking photos of him, I began the presentation:

“I founded The Busking Project because I used to live with Chen Cong, a subway violinist…. For 18 years Chen performed in the 57th Street F-train subway station. Every time I watched him perform I saw children dance, I saw people hold hands, I saw them wipe tears out of their eyes.

"I even saw strangers make eye contact. You've gotta have a death wish to make eye contact on the NY subway, nobody makes eye contact. I did once, and the guy offered me fellatio.”

Oops. There were few laughs.

A couple of sentences later I realised, said “I can’t believe I just said that,” and continued, now very aware that the speech was being filmed on two very large cameras. I’m sure they can edit it out. Anyway, the speech ended in a hopefully unforgettable way: 

“I’ll just end by saying that the sterilisation of our city centres has to stop. Thankfully, street performance is a highly-visible, high-impact and highly entertaining field to work in. I refer you to my last slide…”

With that, the music started. Two beautiful, ageing street tango dancers walked in, came up onto the stage, and entranced the room. Beautiful.

[Read the rest of the presentation here.]


Vivian's Presentation, and the Busking Tour

The next day, Vivian gave her academic presentation on busking policy and how it affects creativity in public urban spaces. Tl;dr – criminalising busking bad, encouraging artists good. She was also nervous beforehand (obviously I told her she was fired if it went badly), but she got through it well. It is a fascinating presentation, in a geeky way, so read it here.

With the two presentations done, we had one last major event planned: a busking tour of Lavalle Street. I was confident: the previous Sunday I'd signed several brilliant local acts to appear on the tour.

Simple, right?
(Toni Montaña and a 4-year old fan who knew all the words)

No. That day, a band dropped out. Then the classical guitarist decided he didn’t want to be known as a busker. The puppeteer couldn’t bring his puppets. And the human statue couldn’t bring his costume.

Thankfully, ONE act was still coming: Toni Montaña, an awesome 5-piece rock/ska/funk band. But when we got to Lavalle Street, only two members of the band were standing there. And they didn’t know where the others were.

We had no-one. Here's what was going through my mind: 

I have spent a ton of money to come to Buenos Aires to make a difference. I've done well so far, but now I'm leading a group of 50 urban planning dignitaries from all over the world on a tour to watch street performers, and I don't have any street performers to watch. Despite all the networking and work we've done, THIS is what we'll be remembered for. We're finished.
By complete coincidence, two very good-looking young tango dancers were setting up on the corner of Lavalle and Florida. While we waited for the couple to start, I improvised a speech on busking history, laws and the mess in London, until my voice began to get hoarse. I was beginning to struggle to think of what I should say yet, but at long last the music started, and the fantastic dancers washed away all my fears.

A couple of songs later we went back up Lavalle Street to see Toni Montaña, who had finally started playing. And that was it: large numbers of applauding, cheering people. Our busking tour ended, and I could relax.

(Good things come to those who wait.)

Suggestions for Habitat III

Late the next morning, very hungover and tired, I joined all the conference attendees for the final words. For hours they'd been putting forward suggestions for things to be discussed at the next UN Habitat conference, Habitat III. Vivian prodded me to say something, so I jotted some stuff down, and seconds later had a microphone in my hand.

"Remember your placemakers. Your unfunded, unrepresented, volunteer, Lighter Quicker Cheaper placemakers. Your non-exclusive, non-sponsored, grassroots, bottom-up, local, embedded, traditional, engaging and at risk placemakers:

Street performers.

They are currently placemaking in the city you come from. Without talking in abstracts. Without organising or strategising. They are creating crowds and tourist attractions and communities and ‘triangulated public spaces’, every day, right now, in YOUR city, waiting to get involved in your projects.”

It worked. After we broke for lunch, about a dozen people came up to me with business cards. One guy offered to fly me to Lund in six weeks to present there (but that might just have been idle chit chat in the queue at a lunch buffet). And others asked me to email them what I’d said (including the conference’s biggest name).

That’s it, really. The next day I took a walking tour of BA’s finest bars, saw the 20-block-long queue of mourners lining up for this guy’s funeral, and slept a deep sleep. I’m writing this in the airport, waiting to wing my way home, back to London, back to the office, back to normal life.

Hope you enjoyed reading this, share if you did,

nick x

Fred Kent and Peter Groenendaal holding a card which reads:
"La Musica en las Calle No Es Delito! Los músicos solistas, bandas y orquestas que tocamos on la calle, plazas, subtes y colectivos, estamos pensando una ley que nos ampare"

"Music in the street is not a crime! The solo musicians, bands and orchestras that play on the streets, plazas, subway and buses are planning a law that protects us.”
Copyright © 2014 The Busking Project, All rights reserved.

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