Starlight Square, built of pandemic desperation, expects to stay civic space long after emergency
Starlight Square, the open-air entertainment complex that kept Central Square culture alive through the pandemic, got a second-season preview Wednesday, as well as a surprise peek at a long-term future.
The event gave city officials and other guests peeks at a calendar that this weekend alone offers hip-hop, reggae and soul with MC Kabir Sen & The Krush Faktory; a Taste of Carnival, a mini-Caribbean festival (the full event draws 100,000 people) with performances, vendors and food; and a gathering of the climate activism group the Sunrise Movement.
All events on the complex’s calendar are free, courtesy of the city.
The complex opened atop Municipal Parking Lot 5 off Bishop Allen Drive in August, led by the Central Square Business Improvement District and its executive director, Michael Monestime, and given shape by Flagg Street Studio, a Somerville-based design and programming firm run by Matthew Boyes-Watson and Nina Berg. It paused its live, socially distanced entertainment during the winter but carried on with Popportunity shopping weekends and winter markets. But with Gov. Charlie Baker calling an end to Massachusetts’ coronavirus state of emergency, the rules under which Starlight Square was allowed will expire Aug. 15, despite a Starlight calendar of events that runs through October.
City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said Monday that he was “absolutely” thinking about how to extend Starlight Square’s life past the state of emergency.
Two days later, that sounded bigger.
It began with comments by Charlotte Wagner, founder of the Boston-based Wagner Foundation, who was introduced to the audience by Geeta Pradhan, president of the Cambridge Community Foundation. Pradhan explained that the Wagner Foundation had come in “at a moment of crisis for the Cultural District and, with immense generosity and immense speed, stepped up and helped support our arts community in Central Square.”
Calling Starlight Square “an amazing example” of how cultural organizations contribute to community health and prosperity, strengthening social and economic bonds, Wagner said she hoped it “will be embedded in Central Square for many, many years to come.”
When DePasquale followed her to the stage, he made that hope more concrete: “Whether it is here in Lot 5 or elsewhere in the square, I am committed to continue to work with the BID and with Michael to make sure that we preserve Starlight in our cultural district here or somewhere else. This is too important to give up,” he said.
Jason Weeks, executive director of Cambridge Arts, said Wednesday that he had been part of conversations with the city manager around keeping a civic space such as Starlight alive, “because we’re so often in university spaces, or private spaces, but we don’t have that many civic spaces. That’s the idea we’re gathering around.”
“It’s happening, sort of building on the back of this experience of the past year,” Weeks said. “I was interested to hear him say it aloud.”
There has been no announcement about a next or final location, but “it is certainly easier to maintain it here rather than migrate it,” considering the flexibility of the scaffold structure to be reconfigured as needed on Lot 5, Weeks said. The Season 2 structure actually returned some parking spaces to the part of the lot closest to the H Mart grocery store.
Monestime said anywhere within Central Square could “make the magic happen … if another space might have to come to be. We just need a permanent space.”
“Let’s make it official. Let’s find a way to make it happen,” Monestime said to keeping Starlight running. “There’s a willingness of the team and a readiness to go. We have a site that’s built, and programming in place. We’ve done it. A Season 3 would be remarkable, but all in due time. We are still in need of funding for this season. This work costs real dollars.”