Street Artists

So You Think You Can Busk: a Road Trip Search for the Best European Street Artists

Nina Strochlic on the three Portuguese friends searching for the best street artists around Europe.

Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty

Troubadours strumming their guitars on street corners. Breakdancers flipping around subway poles. Magicians pulling reluctant passersby into their juggling tricks. Whether viewed as an earsore or a vibrant addition to urban life, street entertainers have been a constant presence in major cities all over the world. And, as all metropolis dwellers know, they run the full gamut of talent. But every once in awhile you stumble across buskers who are so incredible you wonder why they’re on a street corner and not headlining a world tour.

In Portugal, a group of three friends are preparing to set out on a 100-day, 20-country, social-media fueled search to discover the best of the best of these largely unknown street artists. The project, called “Hello Europe,” was started last summer, when friends Guilherme Duarte, Ivo Tavares, and João Mendes decided they had grown tired of their day jobs (as a software engineer, chef, and product designer, respectively). “I really started to feel an urge to change my life, to try other things and find my way,” the 28-year-old Duarte says. “We started thinking about what would make us happy.”

The three decided they wanted to create a project that would give them an opportunity to travel. While brainstorming, they realized each had spent a good chunk of time photographing and videoing street artists. A few years before, Duarte remembers, he and Tavares watched a performer in Amsterdam climb a lamppost while juggling a soccer ball, and the group ended up playing a pick-up match on the street. It was a moment they always remembered, and it contributed to their decision to focus the project on promoting Europe’s most talented street artists, who generally receive little recognition. “We see life with the same eyes,” Duarte says of his co-founders.

The project will unfold like this: at the end of July, the three friends will board their RV and head to Spain. From there, they will embark on a where’s-where journey of Europe’s creative hubs, travelling as far west as London and as far east as St. Petersburg. They’ll spend five days in each city: the first two searching for artists, filming them, and posting videos of the best three on the Hello Europe social media platforms. During the next three days, followers of their adventure can vote on their favorite artists in that city. The winning performer or group will receive 500 euros, “to encourage them to continue doing what they do,” Duarte says. The Hello Europe group has also agreed to work with a Portuguese startup that enters street artists into a database to expose them to more booking opportunities. Then, on to the next city.

As they plan and promote the project, they’ve been calling on people in cities across Europe to direct them toward standout performers and artists in each of the places they’ll be visiting. The suggestions have already been rolling in, hailing from as far away as California and Argentina. “It’s the best thing to see people we don’t know—[who are] not even from our country—that like the project and want to help somehow,” Duarte says. “That’s really what moves us and what drives us for now.” The trip is meant to be as interactive as possible; followers are even invited to track the Hello Europe gang and tag along while they’re on the road.

Planning began in earnest in January, when Duarte quit his job to focus full-time on the project. Mendes is a freelancer, and Tavares plans to quit his job as well. None of the partners are artists or musicians themselves, “we are just admirers of them,” Duarte explains. Besides, who knows what up-and-comer they may discover on the road? Bon Jovi, Bob Dylan, and Tracy Chapman all got their start on the sidewalks, he points out.

“It’s been hard,” Duarte says of their fundraising efforts. “It’s been very hard.” At the end of April, they launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $30,000 necessary to sustain the project (10 percent will go to charity). But Portugal’s economic climate is struggling, and crowd sourcing isn’t a well-known fundraising method in the country. They’ve currently only raised around $700, but the group has done a few television interviews, hooked up with celebrity endorsements, and signed sponsors like LG and Red Bull. Still, the financial goal is daunting. “I wake up afraid every day, but that’s good in a way,” Duarte says.

For the grand finale, Hello Europe hopes to bring the 20-or-so winning artists from each city back to Portugal for a festival or a final contest. They also plan on producing a full documentary of their project. But that all depends on what’s left in the project’s fund when they return to Portugal.

At the end of the day, this isn’t just any old eurotrip. They hope Hello Europe will help change the perception of street artists from just another group of panhandlers to a vital and enriching part of city life that should be embraced. The three will be working hard, spending the days shooting and editing film, then sleeping in an RV. But Duarte is confident the adventure will be a success. “We admired street art and performance before, but now we are even bigger admirers,” he says. “It has been an amazing experience to film and talk with them, and to see how grateful they are to see people trying to give them recognition and break some prejudice.”