National Gallery plans to demand Trafalgar Square buskers leave so it can create 'one of London’s great parks'

Bosses hope to clear street performers from the square’s North Terrace

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The National Gallery is set to go to war with the “living statues” and buskers in Trafalgar Square and has called for the creation of “one of London’s great parks” outside its front door instead.

Its new director Gabriele Finaldi and chair Hannah Rothschild hope to clear street performers from the square’s North Terrace, directly in front of its building, to create a destination more suited to welcoming art lovers.

Management from the gallery, about to open a new exhibition on Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, plans to write to Westminster City Council, which controls the terrace that was pedestrianised in 2003, about how to improve the area.

Dr Finaldi said: “It would be nice for Trafalgar Square to become an attractive part of London,” before adding: “We can talk to Westminster about doing things together. It would be lovely to make it a space that works for us.”

Ms Rothschild agreed: “We should start the campaign to make it beautiful. It could be a place with trees, for shade and respite and calm.” 

As many as 30 street performers, several of them dressed as Yoda from Star Wars, battle for places on the terrace every day. Currently unlicensed, the council is talking about bringing in a voluntary licensing scheme.

Before he was appointed director in August, Dr Finaldi had previously worked at the National Gallery between 1992 and 2002 when a road still ran through the north side of the square.

He said that during his first stint at the gallery, the road meant there were no Yodas – or bagpipe players, Oompah bands, Elvis impersonators or African evangelists. 

The former head of the National Gallery, Nicholas Penny, complained about how the pedestrianised terrace had negatively affected the institution. In 2009 he said that the main result “has been the trashing of a civic space”.

Ken Livingstone, then London mayor, backed the £25m scheme to reduce traffic in the square. But Dr Penny called for the decision to be reversed, saying gallery officials had been presented with the idea of a “festive Tuileries garden” – like the space between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde in Paris – but ended with “vandals and louts messing around on our front lawns”.

A spokeswoman for Westminster City Council said: “We are in the process of engagement with street performers to find a solution that appeals to everyone, as we want to make sure we keep a vibrant feel to the area.”