Easthampton’s Cultural Chaos nixed for second year amid pandemic

  • A crowd of just under 50 people – the legal limit under then-current pandemic guidelines – listens to the jazz duo of Shigefumi Tomita and Carl Clements during the first concert at the new outdoor performance space behind the Easthampton Municipal Building on Oct. 3, 2020. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The jazz duo of Shigefumi Tomita on bass and Carl Clements on saxophone plays in the first concert at the outdoor performance space behind the Easthampton Municipal Building on Oct. 3, 2020. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The jazz duo of Shigefumi Tomita on bass and Carl Clements on saxophone plays in the first concert at the outdoor performance space behind the Easthampton Municipal Building on Oct. 3, 2020. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A crowd of just under 50 people – the legal limit under then-current pandemic guidelines – listens to the jazz duo of Shigefumi Tomita and Carl Clements for the first concert at the outdoor performance space behind the Easthampton Municipal Building on Oct. 3, 2020. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Allison McDermott of SHOW Circus Studio, center, greets visitors while walking on stilts June 9, 2018, during the 5th annual Cultural Chaos block party hosted by Easthampton City Arts and organized by the Cottage Street Cultural District in Easthampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Allison McDermott, makes her way down a blocked-off Cottage Street on stilts during Cultural Chaos in Easthampton Saturday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 10:32:03 AM

EASTHAMPTON — For the second consecutive year, the city’s popular Cultural Chaos festival has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cultural Chaos arts festival, launched in 2014 and normally held on the second Saturday of June, typically brings more than 10,000 people to Cottage Street for the day-long event, according to Easthampton City Arts, which organizes the festival.

But even with COVID-19 vaccination efforts ramping up, organizers did not feel comfortable hosting the popular event with the pandemic still underway, City Arts coordinator Pasqualina Azzarello said. Planning for the festival is typically a six-month process.

“When it comes to fundraising and programming, we didn’t feel that it would be a responsible decision,” Azzarello said, “both from a public health standpoint and from an organization standpoint, to try to organize an event under these still very serious circumstances that we’re living in.”

Worth the wait

In addition to showcasing Easthampton’s arts scene, Cultural Chaos also provides a boost for local businesses. Some Cottage Street business owners said that while they will miss the festival this year, they understand the decision to cancel the event a second time. 

“We’re disappointed, but we certainly understand,” said Jim Ingram, owner of Mt. Tom’s Ice Cream, “and it’s certainly not unexpected, given the state of the world and how things haven’t opened up yet, and with that kind of crowd. But we definitely look forward to it next year.”

Though the festival lasts just one day, it makes a significant impact downtown, he added.

“In the 18 years I’ve been on this street as a business owner, it’s been responsible for the six best days I’ve ever had,” Ingram said, noting that the ice cream store is usually 50% busier during Cultural Chaos than on an average summer day. “So business-wise, it’s amazing, and it’s just great to see everyone out mingling, and all the activities they have.”

Marianne Gregerson, owner of Easthampton Crystal and Mineral, agreed that waiting until next year feels like the smartest option.

“It would be very hard to only allow so many people into something that’s so incredibly popular,” Gregerson said, “and most of the exhibits or stores or food venues are pretty hands-on, so it’s completely understandable.

“To try to tailor it down to fit the current state of events happening with COVID would really take away from the meaning and viability of what we’ve been doing for so long … so I think we can handle waiting a little longer,” she added.

The festival also creates a significant uptick in business at Easthampton Crystal and Mineral — Gregerson usually runs the store by herself but brings on three or four extra people to help out during Cultural Chaos, as the shop experiences “lines out the door” for the day.

Gavin Grant, manager at Book Moon book store, said that he was “relieved, and in general very happy” that Cultural Chaos organizers decided to cancel the event this year, as he feels that this decision is the most responsible approach. 

“I’m not too sure that getting hundreds of people in one place at the moment, even in June, is a great idea,” Grant said. 

Arts programming continues

With the festival on hold this year, Grant looks forward to other events showcasing the arts in the city, such as “The Spot Lot” performance series set to kick off on Saturday. The series, which will highlight local poetry and music at a socially distanced venue set up in the municipal building parking lot, is also organized by Azzarello and Easthampton City Arts volunteers. The series will continue each Saturday for the following four weeks, concluding on May 22.

Azzarello is also working with local businesses, many of whom look forward to Cultural Chaos each year as an opportunity to promote the arts and boost business.

“The concert is also designed with our beloved business community in mind,” Azzarello said, noting that she is working “very closely with the Cottage Street Cultural District Committee to plan this series of events,” and partnering with businesses, including Mt. Tom’s Ice Cream and Book Moon.

The city’s arts community “has a long-standing history of being truly integrated throughout the downtown business community in Easthampton,” Azarello added, “so there’s a real opportunity to experience art while shopping and while enjoying our amazing restaurants.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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