Historic Building To Open Its Doors to City's Multicultural Arts

Like other local arts groups, the Underground Railway Theatre each season searches for new audiences. For lack of larger, affordable places, the Indo-Asian puppeteer group does a lot of performing at churches and schools.

Says Debra A. Wise, one of the group's puppeteers, "If we perform in more traditional spaces it's because of the generosity of others. There's been precious few places to perform around here-it's been ad hoe."

This spring, that search may have ended for main groups thanks to the long-awaited construct on of the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center (CMAC).

The culmination of $9 million and 10 years and planning, the East Cambridge site will open the doors of its galleries, workshops and theater to grass roots arts enthusiasts this Thursday.

"Nothing Comparable"

For the city's wide array of arts groups-ranging from ethnic folk-dancing troupes to painters' collectives, the center is long overdue.

"There is nothing appropriate in either Cambridge or Boston, spacewise or acoustically. This should be great to work in-there's nothing comparable around," Cheryl Webber, of the women's chorus Libana, says of the Center's 200-seat auditorium.

The Center, located in the remodeled Bullfinch Courthouse in the heart of one of Cambridge's oldest ethnic neighborhoods, is designed to showcase the city's rich ethnic diversity, according to CMAC spokesperson Victoria Dederian.

"We want to appeal to the international community of Cambridge-the list of ethnic groups is enormous," said Dederian of the center's potential to serve as a forum for cultural exchange.

Social Change Through Art

CMAC Director David Kronberg emphasizes the center's work with children and youth as the key to improving cultural intolerance. "It'll be over the longterm-we'll be here for the next century and we could be affecting kids of every generation."

"It's no quick fix, but we're intent on working at it continually. We're gradually embracing all the [ethnic and racial] groups by giving them space," he adds.

Artists will also be able to reach new audiences through the center. "Part of out mission is to provide access to different cultural communities this needs to be a priority," says Wise.

She adds that in the past, performance locations and prices have restricted theater and other performing arts to white, middle-class audiences. The CMAC is "a boon for small professional companies who want to be seen by lots of people, but can't afford to perform locally."

10-Year Struggle