Almost Spontaneous Celebration

A coordinated music and arts festival in Cambridge is a logical outgrowth of the spontaneous displays of street theater, mime, and music which annually spring forth as soon as the thermometer hits 50 degrees. Four years ago, the fledgeling Cambridge Arts Council (CAC) took advantage of this spirit to create the first Cambridge River Festival, which it billed as "a citywide celebration of spring, the arts, and the people of Cambridge." By this year, the festival is a firmly ensconced tradition enjoying ever-growing support. "At this point, it would probably happen by itself," Molly Miller, acting director of the CAC says.

The theme of the 1980 river festival is the commemoration of Cambridge's 350th anniversary. Through community workshops with local artists, Cantabrigians will produce symbolic presents to give to the city, Miller says. "The whole concept is to think of things in terms of birthdays," she adds.

As birthday parties go, the Cambridge River Festival is one of the most lively celebrations any city could wish for. Although Harvard and MIT are donating performance and exhibition space, helum for balloons, and funds for individual art projects during the festival, they will take a back seat to programs produced by the community. Instead of superimposing art on neighborhoods, the CAC solicits services, suggestions, talent, and materials from hundreds of people. The result will be an outpouring of parades, music, dance, clowning, balloons, art in store windows, heralds in steeples, international foods and frivolity.

The festival begins May 25 with a parade featuring the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School band and ends May 31 with a balloon ceremony, a march, and a picnic by the river.

The CAC also sponsors artists in residence and commissions for mural-painting, neighborhood workshops, exhibits, and performances. The Permanent Art Program includes the Arts on the Line project which incorporates artwork of all kinds into the Red Line extension, and "parklet" art, such as the Michio Ihara wind sculpture in Central Square and a chime fence to be installed in front of City Hall later this month.


The CAC is currently looking for funds to continue giving grants to local artists and groups; past recipients have included the summer Articulture program (similar to Boston's Summerthing), the Loon and Heron children's theatre, the Mudflat Pottery workshops for senior citizens, and the Art of Black Dance and Music company's classes for young people.

Last year the City Council guaranteed that 1 per cent of the annual city budget will go to the arts. Nearly 40 other cities, including Chicago, atlanta, Philadelphia, and Anchorage, have similar ordinances on the books, but only Cambridge's allocation includes the performing arts as well as structural improvement.

Other chambers of commerce in the state are looking to Cambridge--the first city in Massachusetts to pass such a law--as a model for similar ordinances.

The CAC recognizes "the economic value of improving the physical appearance of the city," Miller says, adding that art, however, "has a value of its own." By bringing the city together in a celebration and fostering good relations between different racial, ethnic and class groups, the river festival and citywide arts provide "a means to an end," she adds.