Tuesday, April 23, 2024

There’s a hearing scheduled for 8:45 p.m. Thursday that could end, or save, performances at the Zeitgeist Gallery, a vital part of Cambridge’s art and music scene for a dozen years. A Cambridge zoning official, identified by a Zeitgeist supporter as Sean O’Grady, insists the gallery should have a $500 entertainment license and is known to be bringing forward at least one neighbor who opposes performance at the space. (“Today, O’Grady said there were other opponents,” said Rob Chalfen, maintainer of the gallery e-mail list.)

The contradiction is obvious: If an entertainment license resolves the problem for the city, what relevance do complaining neighbors have? Certainly people crabby over avant-garde sound pollution aren’t going to suddenly be satisfied knowing the din that’s suffered is backed by a $500 fee.

The city, it seems, is using the neighbors to make a point, which is that it demands money — the city’s vaunted fiscal responsibility run amok. It’s not dunning the spectacularly endowed Harvard University here, but a small art gallery that happens to think art isn’t just hung on walls.

And the gallery’s Alan Nidle doesn’t want to pay $500 for an entertainment license when he’s only asking donations from people attending, just as you can’t be running a bar if you only give away the booze (and pass the occasional hat). That argument may not hold back the city this time, although it has in the past, and the Zeitgeist may suffer for it.

At a reception to be held after the hearing, Chalfen said, “people can learn about the Zeitgeist’s alternate plan — to move to a nearby space that is both currently empty and zoned for what the city calls theater.”

The Zeitgeist has moved already this year, from space at 1353 Cambridge St. that is now the all-music Lily Pad, to 186 Hampshire St., which was the New Words Collective before that moved to 7 Temple St. A move may be the best thing for it, if it gets the city off its collective — or collectivist — back.

But for a city as boastful of its funk as it is of its fiscal power, this is an awfully grim approach to an enduring source of art and enlightenment, and it seems like part of an ominous trend.

The Brattle Theatre is only halfway to the $500,000 it needs to stay in Harvard Square after the end of the year; Toscanini’s is very likely losing its Davis Square Someday Cafe, and its Harvard Square location will be shut down while the landlord works on the host building — effectively cutting two-thirds of Toscanini’s revenue stream. This follows hard on the heels of the construction in front of Toscanini’s Central Square location that crippled business for weeks.

These are the businesses we need to support. I’ll be at work during the Zeitgeist hearing, damnit, but I hope to stop by the reception afterward to find out what’s going on.

The hearing is at the Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave., across from City Hall in Central Square. The reception will be at the Zeitgeist, Chalfen said, “regardless of the outcome.”