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Chinatown festival expands to three weeks this fall

The annual Experience Chinatown event aims to celebrate local artists, inspire resiliency, and prop up ailing businesses this year

Artists Crystal Bi and Lily Xie decorate a window in Chinatown.
Artists Crystal Bi and Lily Xie decorate a window in Chinatown.Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center

In Boston’s Chinatown this weekend and through most of September, anyone can indulge in what feels today like a bygone pleasure: watching local artists perform outside and celebrating Asian culture in person. The activities are part of the annual Experience Chinatown festival, which in past years was a single, noisy event-packed day. This year, hosted by the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center and the Pao Arts Center as part of Boston’s “We Love Boston Chinatown: A Resiliency Campaign,” the festival runs Sept. 5-27, to allow for social distancing and more opportunities to support the neighborhood’s hard-hit businesses.

The free festival offers small-scale, pop-up art activities and cultural performances, including a self-guided mural walk through Chinatown and a chance this weekend to see Chinatown artists begin creating public art installations on local storefronts, which will stay up throughout the month. Of note is the Lantern Stories installation by Yu-Wen Wu, who collected stories from Chinatown residents about personal resiliency and their immigrant journey, and incorporated them into 30 unique Chinese lanterns. The project was commissioned by the Greenway Conservancy.

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Take-out Thursdays will encourage visitors to buy food from local restaurants while listening to live music during lunch hour, noon to 1 p.m., at Chin Park. Festival staff have put up signs and barricades and will be present to encourage social distancing and mask wearing. Portable hand sanitizer stations will be set up. The Experience Chinatown lineup features virtual activities, too, including a 5k virtual run on Sept. 12-13.


As in years past, live music will be part of this year's Experience Chinatown festival.
As in years past, live music will be part of this year's Experience Chinatown festival.Andrew Wang

The first Boston community to suffer COVID-19′s impact has been slow to rebound. In February, due to misinformed beliefs tying coronavirus to Asian restaurants and people, Chinatown businesses experienced revenue drops as high as 80 percent, weeks before other Boston-area establishments. Even under reopening measures, Chinatown shops remain quiet. “We hope businesses see an uptick, because many of them are on the brink of closing or furloughing people,” said Ben Hires, CEO of BCNC, in an interview.

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A patchwork army of handwritten signs in business windows urge people in both English and Chinese to come in and wear a mask. “We’re open!” they say.

Noticing all these plaintive signs in June motivated Hires. “I thought: Wouldn’t it be nice to see a more unified effort?” he said. Festival planners brainstormed ideas to bring people outdoors to encounter art that would help them feel inspiration, pride, and hope during a time that has spurred anti-Asian racism. “People have been experiencing harassment and fear,” Hires said. He hopes seeing the art can help visitors feel safety and togetherness again. “The visual presence reminds people the community cares about them.”

For more information, go to https://bcnc.net/events/2020/9/5/experience-chinatown-arts-festival-2020.

Victoria Zhuang is a Globe correspondent. She can be reached at victoriazhuang1@protonmail.com