We, the Cambridge Artist Coalition and members of the local artistic community, would like to address a statement that was released by the Harvard Square Business Association yesterday. We appreciate the tact and thought that the Association put into addressing our upcoming action; However, we feel the need to respond directly to parts of this statement that omit key facts about the EMF evictions, HSBA’s President John P. DiGiovanni, and the purpose of this protest.
At the end of February tenants of EMF were served an eviction notice, which stated that the building had to be vacated by April 30th. This gave several thriving businesses, non-profits, performers, and visual artists two months to pack up their livelihoods and find a new location. Beyond the logistical impossibility of finding affordable venues in this time frame, the emotional ramifications of this sudden destruction of space have been immeasurable. The artistic community has lost a home. We are grieving.
In response to the eviction notice, more than a hundred of EMF tenants and local artists attended a Cambridge City Council meeting to express our frustration. It was decided that members of City Council would enter negotiations with John P. DiGiovanni, in which they would consider purchasing or leasing the building. According to Mayor Marc McGovern, DiGiovanni refused to sell the building at any price, and, ultimately, the city decided not to lease the building. Members of a steering committee, elected by the EMF community, continued to attend meetings with local representatives and press in order to advocate for the preservation of EMF as a studio space. Throughout these negotiations, John P. DiGiovanni refused to meet face to face with any of the 200+ individuals he has evicted, despite our requests for dialogue.
During the two years that DiGiovanni held EMF as a practice space, the safety hazards outlined in a recent report were not made known to us. For two years, we paid our rent to Trinity Property Management in a building that has been retroactively classified as a death trap. It was only after the eviction notice was served that we were alerted to its “unsafe and dangerous” nature. This makes us believe that “safety” is not the reason for destroying our community but that it has been deployed as a strategy for justifying inexcusable actions. He has not revealed what he intends to do with the building or how long it will remain vacant. As of now, we are positive that DiGiovanni does not intend to restore the building as a practice space but we are open to having our suspicions challenged.
As for the upcoming protest, when an association installs someone in a position of leadership and power, they cannot then side-step any connection with the detrimental impact of that person’s influence on the community. We agree that John P. DiGiovanni’s actions are incompatible with the core principles of Harvard Square Business Association, which prides itself on ethical commerce. He has evicted a thriving community of +200 artists. He also has a questionable history of advocating for chain stores, including, but not limited to, bringing Cambridge’s Board of Zoning Appeals to court so that he could place a Dunkin Donuts in one of his lots. Throughout this difficult and taxing process, he has not given us the time of day, despite taking an action that has completely uprooted our lives. No one is suggesting the HSBA has had any impact on Trinity Management’s business decisions; However, as an organization, they do have a decision to make about whether or not he remains on their board. We urge HSBA to consider whether their President upholds their values in his personal endeavors and to proceed accordingly.
The Cambridge Artist Coalition, comprised of hundreds of performers, does not disagree with the general spirit of Make Music. In fact, two months ago we began organizing our own music-based, family-friendly, open-air, handicap-accessible event in the lot of EMF but had to cancel our efforts after Trinity Property Management demanded we pay them $1,500 in order to hold such a function.
We’d also like to address the timeliness of Make Music Harvard Square as part of a larger, troubling trend. The Harvard Square Business Association claims that “musicians perform for the sheer joy of making music” in their response to our upcoming protest. As musicians, we unequivocally reject this remark. “Sheer joy” does not pay our bills. It does not feed our children. It does not provide us with practice space so that we can serenade squares, venues, and restaurants with well-rehearsed material. Although the history of Make Music is indeed romantic (and *French*) we abhor the notion that our product is worth zero dollars. A study conducted by Americans for the Arts found that Cambridge’s FY2015 saw $55 million generated by arts and cultural audiences alone, excluding the cost of admission. Performers are the backbone of this number. We are a revenue-generating workforce that is rarely compensated for the years, dedication, and late hours we put into labor.
To conclude this statement, we are not demanding “that a private individual bear the responsibility to personally maintain an artist community,” we are simply demanding that he does not actively dismantle it. John P. DiGiovanni can still do right by the City of Cambridge and its constituents. We are asking that he sell the building to the city or an arts-oriented buyer at the price he bought it for OR that he gives us written confirmation that it will be restored as a safe, affordable practice space with a ten year lease. Fulfilling either of these requests would single-handedly prevent the destruction of the artistic community in Cambridge’s Cultural District, Central Square. We, as community members and leaders, must hold both the public and private sector accountable and make it known that powerful members of our city can no longer prioritize profit over people.
To our supporters and to all of our loved ones in the artistic community, we appreciate you, we see you. June 16th will be a rally to demand that HSBA removes John P. DiGiovanni from his position as President of the Board, just as long as he continues to destroy our community, and to demand general support for the arts from both wealthy developers and our elected representatives as we move forward.
Cambridge Artist Coalition