Photo courtesy of the Central Square Business Improvement District.

By Geeta Pradhan and Michael Monestime

It’s been a most unusual year: one that has severely impacted the creatives and cultural institutions in Cambridge. And in six weeks, our artists, who have found hope at Starlight Square, will be in the dark once again when this outdoor venue closes for the winter. We cannot wait to know whether or not our artists and arts organizations will rebound. We must act now.

Our artists were among the first workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and they are among the last to find ways to convert their craft to a paying virtual reality. This struggle not only hurts them; it hurts all of us. Before the pandemic, the arts and culture sector was a $174.8 million per year contributor to the Cambridge economy and central to its vitality. None of us who call Cambridge home can afford to see that disappear.

Central Square, and Cambridge more broadly, has suffered because of shuttered theaters, quiet stages, and absent galleries, because the arts have a direct impact on the economic viability of our community. Think about it. Before you go to a show, you grab a coffee or run an errand at a local store. After the show, maybe you process the experience over dinner with family or friends. The arts bring people out, connects them to a sense of place, and encourages local spending.

Starlight Square opened July 31 with support from our city leaders, city council members, civic and community leaders, business community, residents, and local artists. The weeks that have followed have shown the power of this unusual and unprecedented innovation that brings people together in a safe way, uses the arts to stimulate economic activity, and gives a lifeline to struggling arts organizations in the Central Square Cultural District. Joyful gatherings of music, dance, theater, comedy, community gatherings, and youth education events have happened because of this investment. We thank all those who contributed to make this magic happen! Now, we have less than six weeks to get all we can from Starlight Square and take our next step to protect the arts and cultural sector that is an essential part of our creative city.

Business, philanthropy, residents, and others are all crying out to save our struggling art scene. Saving the arts is synonymous with saving our city’s livelihood. It’s about saving businesses, families, jobs, and inspiring, healing, and connecting us as a community. Infusing the arts with dollars at this time is an important part of our local stimulus plan.

This is why the Cambridge Community Foundation and the Central Square Business Improvement District have joined forces to address the immediate needs of the arts sector, support our artists and arts organizations in this trying time, and protect them far into the future. The goal is ‘to keep Central –our one and only cultural district — essential’.

We ask you to join us. Raise your voice, support the arts, talk to your local leaders, and explain to them that the coming six weeks of Starlight cannot be our last magical moments.

The Cambridge Community Foundation invites you to join this effort by donating to its Cultural Capital Fund.

This op ed first appeared in the Cambridge Chronicle. About the authors: Geeta Pradhan is president of the Cambridge Community Foundation. Michael Monestime is executive director of the Central Square Business Improvement District.