Central Square Live brings district online, paying its stars while virus chills business
Central Square is usually bustling with the arts and businesses face to face with the community. But with social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus, these everyday interactions have come to sudden pause. To help keep the sense of community intact, the Central Square Business Improvement District is launching Central Square Live, online programming bringing a sense of the Cambridge neighborhood to viewer’s screens.
The organization will use its digital platforms on Facebook and Instagram to livestream everything from guided meditation sessions with local instructors to happy hours with bartenders from the district’s favorite restaurants. The broadcasts will be led by someone connected to Central Square who has become unemployed or lost work due to the pandemic. So far, nearly 50 people have signed up for time slots.
While the livestreams will be broadcast to the organization’s thousands of followers, participants are working for more than just Internet exposure: They will get a stipend for their videos, and a link to their Venmo, PayPal or whichever money transfer app they use will be included so viewers can also chip in.
“Part of helping to support the creative economy is putting money into the creative economy,” said Michael Monestime, executive director of the business improvement district.
The programming kicked off at 1 p.m. Tuesday with a yoga class. More programming is scheduled to follow daily, with no set end date.
The economic effect from the coronavirus was felt by Central Square business owners even before Gov. Charlie Baker ordered the closing of all nonessential businesses, with eateries, shops and nonprofit organizations feeling a pinch from a decline in sales and foot traffic.
The district asked more than 50 businesses about the impact of the coronavirus, and 60 percent said they will not last another eight weeks under current circumstances. The study was posted March 15.
“It’s really heartbreaking. [The study] shows how fragile our local economy is and how strong our community is, but the reality is 60 percent of what we think about in Central Square is going to struggle to recover to come back from this,” said Nina Berg, the organization’s communications and creative director.
Keeping people connected
Central Square Live aims to help neighborhood businesses, artists and other workers stay connected with patrons, as well as to support them financially. Berg said the daily broadcasts can help create a sense of routine for viewers, which is much harder to do when working from home.
“Making a schedule is really important for maintaining your sanity and some sense of normalcy, so that’s also what we’re thinking about,” Berg said. “How to help people reestablish that routine in their lives, especially when they can’t go out to see their favorite yoga instructor or their favorite bartender?”
Although the organization has been active across its social media platforms about events and programs, this is the first time social media has played a main role in executing a project. But in recognition that not everyone has reliable access to Wi-Fi or Facebook or Instagram accounts, it is partnering with Cambridge Community Television to broadcast the same videos and reach a wider audience.
This week will function as somewhat of a trial period as the organization tests what works and what doesn’t about Central Square Live. Despite past or future hiccups, those involved with the project said this has been a supportive process.
“Everyone that we’ve talked to is super enthusiastic about it,” said Nick Surette, a Cambridge-based photographer who helped launch Central Square Live. “They love that we’re still trying to keep the community together and positive with everything that’s going on, and they’re all super happy to help.”