THE HOT SPOT: Zeitgeist Gallery

“We are a venue for that which has no other venue,” says the Zeitgeist’s mission statement, and while that isn’t always true, it’s accurate enough of the time to make its continued existence a crucial one. For just over ten years, the one-room art gallery and performance space has acted as a laboratory for artists in nearly every medium.

Performances include anything imaginable, like jazz, singer-songwriter, poetry, klezmer, classical, dance, indie-rock, performance art, vaudeville cabaret, “guitar mysticism” and even live re-enactments of old radio dramas. The schedule is incredibly packed, with multiple performances most days of the week.

Since most performers prefer to keep the house lights off, the ever-changing art isn’t usually visible during performances but is certainly worth a separate look. The current exhibition, showing the work of Marcus Nechay consists of paintings, found objects, and sculpture evocative of World War II.

The gallery is known for operating on a shoestring, and it struggles to make its rent and bills with a policy director and co-founder Alan Nidle describes as “subliminal donation.” The suggested amount usually ranges from free to $10, but Nidle assures that they tend to be flexible unless a show is packed.

In keeping with the Zeitgeist’s image as a testing ground rather than a place for pure entertainment, the club does not sell food or alcohol and its audience tends to be serious about appreciating the music.

“The [Boston] club scene isn’t really geared to nurturing talent,” says Nidle. “There isn’t really [another] listening room. The environment we have is concentrated—it’s almost too formal for a lot of people, you’re not socializing, you’re not drinking, you’re not getting stoned.”

On the verge of securing its nonprofit status, the Zeitgeist has been through two previous locations; a fire in its previous Kendall Square digs (which its press materials call a meeting with “the forces of entropy”) caused a 2002 move to its current Inman Square location.

The most exciting aspect of the Zeitgeist is its anarchic attitude, which extends well beyond the walls of the gallery.

“It never had a business plan, it’s very disorganized,” says Nidle.

Nidle and his cohorts are known almost as much for their public stunts as they are for the Zeitgeist. They’ve led a group of people dressed as corpses from the gallery to the front of City Hall, protesting Cambridge’s reluctance to remove deceased voters from the rolls so that it could thwart a proposed rent-control ordinance. They’ve held a massive monopoly game to protest local gentrification.

And in one of his characteristic battles with the city over the Gallery’s violation of zoning ordinances, Nidle showed up in court wearing boxing gloves.

Remember, though, that the place’s wacky experimental leanings mean you may not always love what you hear. Its Monday night regular band, The Fringe, is supposedly the longest-running avant-garde jazz outfit in Cambridge, but when TheHotSpot heard it this week we found the rambling two-and-a-half-hour set to be bizarre, brash…and incredibly boring. And TheHotspot even likes Ornette Coleman!

However, The Fringe certainly has its adherents—after all, there were a dozen other people there who seemed to be enjoying it, and somebody booked them to play weekly—and you might be one of them. If you scan the Zeitgeist’s excellently detailed online calendar ( you are almost certain to find something electrifying.

One particularly cool (and free!) event features the white-hot and very far-out electro-pop duo Fischerspooner. They won’t be performing, but will instead be showing an exhibition of 4x6 photos (that’s 4x6 feet, not inches) and giving away refreshments and copies of their new CD. The Capitol Records-sponsored party takes place all day on April 6.

The Zeitgeist Gallery is a 15-minute walk from Harvard Square down Cambridge Street, which runs between Annenberg and the Sackler Museum. Given the walkability of its location, the cheapness of its entry price, and the range of performances it offers, you have no excuse not to go.

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—Staff writer Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at