While spontaneity is the spirit of street art, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City authorities are demanding that they be briefed in advance on any performances that take place on local walking streets.
The decision, which the regulatory bodies say is to ensure security and order at the pedestrian venues, has caused uproar among local street artists and stripped the walking streets of a core attraction.
The Nguyen Hue walking street in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City and its counterpart in Hanoi near the iconic Ho Guom (Sword Lake) are hot spots for locals and tourists to spend evenings, particularly to take in the groups of street artists and performers who flock to each arena to showcase their skills.
Most of the gigs are unplanned, with spectators gathering around the performances with excitement.
However, the Hanoi culture department has recently enacted decree No.79, stipulating that it be notified of the content and time of street artists planning to perform in the capital at least five days in advance.
Street artists perform in Hanoi.
Artists opposing the decree say that their performances will lose authenticity if they are forced to seek approval from regulatory bodies.
“Street art is all about spontaneity,” Nguyen Viet Hoang, chairman of a street magic club in Hanoi, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Hoang said his club members never plan their performances.
“On any given day we head to the walking street to showcase our skills if we can gather five to six members who are in the mood to perform,” Hoang said. “Nothing is planned at all.”
Hoang said the new rule will discourage street artists who are not used to planning their shows in advance.
“Street art will lose its impromptu nature if we are forced to seek approval,” he said.
Hoang added that street artists are not professional performers, so paperwork is unnecessary, not to mention that “we have other stuff to do so there is no time for the red tape.”
Though he acknowledged the need to ensure security for the walking street, Hoang mentioned that “this needs to be done in a more appropriate way than the current rule.”
In Ho Chi Minh City, the situation is no brighter for street artists and their audiences.
A group of street dancers perform on the Nguyen Hue walking street in Ho Chi Minh City.
Thai Duc Do, head of the Nguyen Hue walking street’s management board, said any performances at the venue must have their contents approved by the municipal culture department.
“Street artists must come to the department to seek permits for their performances... any unlicensed shows will be deemed illegal and the performers will have to work with police,” Do warned.
The tough decision hit the city’s street art scene hard, with fewer performances taking place each night on Nguyen Hue.
“I am really disappointed when the street performers are all gone,” a local visitor said.
Some street art groups said they had no choice but to ‘forget’ Nguyen Hue, as they will be frequently checked by security staff and asked to leave.
“The walking street is the best place for street art as artists are greatly inspired by the crowds,” Phi Khanh, a member of Acoustic TCK, said after his group relocated to another venue for their performances.
Street artists perform on the Nguyen Hue walking street in Ho Chi Minh City.