Cambridge Central Arts Today
By Shiheng Xu
The neighborhood in the early 1800s, became a hub for different waves of immigrants coming from all over the world. That diversity remains apparent today, as seen by its wide range selection of ethnic restaurants, nightclubs, and street art, which depicts people from all walks of life embracing the neighborhood’s culture. Cambridge Central perhaps is the most unique area of the greater Boston area, no matter of its architecture, street art, or community engagement, its richness in art is unparalleled compared to other areas. Central is located directly north of the city of Boston, across the Charlies River. It is mostly famous for one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The area is crowded with tourists who are dying for a selfie with the famous MIT dome. Little do people know, the majestic architectures in MIT merely represents a small part of Cambridge in terms of its art scene. Immediately after exiting the Central subway station, it is impossible for one’s eye to not quickly notice all the mysterious shops and stylistic graffiti. Needless to say, there are plenty more elements that contributed to the most artistic area in Boston. This essay will separately discuss different segments of art scene in Cambridge, and determine if the area has a well-rounded art scene.
Talking about first impression here, Cambridge strikes as an area that have a vibrant art community. Many small details could be picked up, such as the amount of independent shops that is flourishing under the support of the community. Yet, the moment one steps out the subway stop, the infamous street art will greet you from every single direction. The most notorious one of course is the graffiti alley located next to the Central subway station, it is a public walkway that connects city parking lot 5 to Massachusetts Avenue. Partially covered by a colorful plastic “strained glass” canopy, Graffiti Alley is an also an open-air galley. One side features a black and white photo collage of people and places around Central Square. The other has been set aside for use by graffiti and street artists, and is constantly updated with fantastic, colorful paintings both large and small. The Wall was originally started by two artists, Geoff Hargadon and Gary Strack. Its first official installation, in October 2007, brought together twenty mostly Boston-based artists to collaborate for three days. While the initial goal was to bring more exposure to local street artists, the space has taken on a whole new significance – a cultural hub for the Central Square community. There is also another very famous street painting called “crossroads” by Daniel Galvez. It is a massive mural in the intersection of Pearl and Franklin Street created back in 1986. The mural is very interesting in its ethnic representation, where it shows that the community is consisted of very different people. Galvez originally drew inspirations from community member ideas and photographs. This truly represents the liberal spirit of Cambridge central, where members actually influence how the streets look. Without a doubt, Cambridge Central will be the area that you think of, if you ever wanted to improvise some street art. Every time when I walk pass the graffiti alley, I can see new artists working on the mural. It is the free open and free environment that created possibilities for unknown artists to talk about unknown stories. Therefore, it is safe to say that the street art scene in Central is an extremely friendly and healthy for newcomers to show off their hidden talents to the world.
Besides the street art, music is the second reasons why many ubers show up in many different music venues on Massachusetts avenue. Central square boasts a huge selection of live music venues. With everything from large concerts with some of the most influential names of all types of music at The Middle East, to local indie musicians at Cantab Lounge and Out of the Blue Gallery, you will find it all in Central. Not only can you see all types of musicians perform live, you can also get vinyl fix at Cheapo Records, or learn how to spin and produce your own music at Mmmmaven. If you are a college student who enjoys live music, you have definitely heard of The Middle East. From first-hand experience, I have seen many artists that I love in Middle East, such as The Hinds from Madrid, and Ma Di from China. The wide range of musical diversity in Middle East truly represents the diversity of different musical culture in Boston, when you can see a show of your favorite musician from home. As for people who prefer more indie side of music, Cantab and Out of the Blue Gallery (OTBG) will their best bet. OTBG in the day is a thrift store like art collection store, turns into an illuminating and lively stage for local musicians. According to the owner of OTBG, almost every night they are bands coming in and out to perform in the strangely decorated shop. OTBG also is a space for rent in case anyone fancies to do any forms of events and gathering. Moreover, OTBG and Cantab host weekly poetry slam, which invite community poets or open-minded artists to express or display their art. Therefore, evidently, anyone can find a place of what they like in Central, which leads to the next section of this essay, culture.
“Creating art, that’s some gangster shit, yo”, as it cannot be put more bluntly and accurately by the Ricky Orng, the communication director at EMW Bookstore, it captures the essence of East Meet West Bookstore. It is a community-oriented space and resource for people from marginalized identities to pursue creative visions. EMW hosts events such as poetry slam and hip-hop concerts, featuring minority people in America. With the help of Ricky, a small apartment transforms into a community full of like-minded people pouring out their lives and art. EMW is perhaps the biggest community I have seen in Central that could bring in around 100 people on a Friday night. Needless to say, the emotional poetry slam and illuminating hip-hop concert is merely the first step of creating a bigger community for minority in Central. To talk more community and education, Cambridge Science Festival (CSF) which recently just finished after 10 days of exciting programming in mid-April, is perhaps the biggest festival in Central. A multifaceted, multicultural event, CSF offers a wide range of science and art related activities – lectures, exhibitions, workshops, debates, etc. CSF intends to illuminate the richness of scientific inquiry and the excitement of discovering art. The festival is extremely children-friendly; the wide range of activities perhaps will help children to develop passion for something they have never tried before. The main goal of this festival is to bring families fun and also to inspire them at the same time, which in the end is another perfect example of the strong community engagement in Central. And finally, if you seek a causal entertainment for Friday or Saturday night, Central Square Theater and Improv Boston will be your best bet. Easily found on the Massachusetts Avenue, both quality and laughter are guaranteed, featuring local artists, it will be the entertainment that you don’t want to miss.
All in all, I believe Central will be the neighborhood that I will move in if I were to look for a proper art scene in Boston. It’s got it all, the community, the talents, and the venues. The vibrant community is beyond amazing and open, it’s in the end of the day, not a coincidence that many colleges students converge in Central every weekend in order to enjoy its unique and dynamic art scene.