A municipal parking lot in the heart of Central Square in Cambridge will soon serve as a multipurpose outdoor space tailored for safety and social distancing.
Tucked just behind Graffiti Alley and the Central Square MBTA stop, Starlight Square will include four sections: a performance space, dining destination, makeshift community center, and farmers market that doubles as an entryway. It opens Saturday and is expected to operate into the fall.
Michael Monestime, the executive director of the Central Square business improvement district, said Starlight Square is an effort to give an economic boost to a city unlikely to return to its former glory for a while. Harvard and MIT are bringing back only a sliver of their student populations this fall. And many Cambridge companies have opted to allow employees to work from home until 2021.
“We had to build something that reaches the scale of the crisis we are in,” Monestime said. “We understood early on that we were going to have to bring our economy outside to save our livelihoods and retain our cultural district. So this is the solution: a square within a square.”
Starlight Square’s amphitheater will seat 150 people for nightly shows from Central Square Theater, Dance Complex, and Improv Boston — the neighborhood’s cultural anchors — and other smaller groups. In the day, arts and dance classes will be held in the space.
Central Square Theater director Catherine Carr Kelly said the programming planned for Starlight Square mirrors the diversity of the community. Scheduled shows include a series from the Black theater company the Front Porch Arts Collective, a puppet show, and a hip-hop performance.
“It will have a uniquely local feeling,” she said. “The goal is to bring in work that is as inclusive as possible.”
The remaining Starlight Square sections will operate under varying schedules. Gary Strack, owner of Brick & Mortar and the now-shuttered Central Kitchen, will dish out drinks and small bites during normal business hours. The community space will be allotted to different groups as they need, and the Central Square farmers market will open as normal on Mondays from noon to 6 p.m.
Each quadrant will be sectioned off by 18-foot-tall temporary walls that don screen-printed street artwork curated by the firm Street Theory. Some sections have been left blank to be filled in later with the creations of local artists and youth.
Masks and social distancing will be required throughout the venue, which will have hand-washing stations.
Monestime said the pop-up could potentially be transformed into a winter market or year-round endeavor, but the first priority is restoring normalcy. “Recovery is not just financial,” he said. “Starlight is how we are doing emotionally and socially coming back to life, in a sense. This is a place for wonder and discovery.”
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_