Easthampton’s city hall parking lot transformed into entertainment venue

Oct. 13, 2020 | Lauren LeBel

Blue circles mark socially-distanced spaces in which residents can sit to watch performances in the parking lot of the Easthampton Municipal Building on Payson Avenue.
Photo courtesy of Gateway City Arts

EASTHAMPTON – After social distancing for several months, people are in desperate need of an escape. With the combined help from city officials and local artists, this escape has been found.

The Easthampton Municipal Building has recently turned its parking lot at 50 Payson Ave. into an outdoor performance stage with socially distanced spots for spectators to gather. The idea in creating a COVID-19-friendly event was initiated by Mayor Nicole LaChapelle.

LaChapelle proposed this idea, receiving positive feedback and Pasqualina Azzarello, city arts coordinator for Easthampton City Arts (ECA), assisted in bringing this vision to life.

“Our city has long supported arts and culture as economic drivers. When COVID came to our region, it impacted artists of all kinds,” Azzarello said.

Other assistance was granted through the city’s Planning Department, Easthampton City Arts, the Department of Public Health, the Health Department and the Mayor’s Office. LaChapelle informed everyone on how she wanted to paint polka dots in the municipal parking lot where spectators can sit or stand. This way, proper COVID guidelines and protocols are being followed in place for the audience to be socially distanced.

“Many practical and logistical decisions have been made,” Azzarello claimed.

The inaugural performance in Easthampton’s downtown stage took place this past weekend. Performances by Carl Celements and Fumi Tomita, a jazz group, and New Leaf, a traditional Irish and Celtic folk group, drew enthused crowds in the early evening. Each musician played an hour set.

The bands were recipients of an Easthampton City Arts Artist Grants Initiative. ECA provides grants to individual artists, in exchange for a display of their passion back to the community.

Carl Clements stated, “I thought the performance went very well. My favorite part was being able to play with another artist and for the public, for the first time in a while.”

This performance was free of charge and open to the public. The space was filled with about 50 people in the parking lot; both performers and spectators. As audience members rotated, more were able to come in. Passersby and people sitting at Promenade Park on Nashawannuck Pond, were able to enjoy it as well.

There are 11 large dots painted blue throughout the parking lot and Azzarello expects they will be adding more. Twenty-five feet distances the performers from the audience and 10 feet distances the performers from each other. Once everyone is situated in their designated spots, they can take off their masks, but only if they’re eating or drinking. The support for local restaurants during this time encourages people to order takeout during the concerts and that’s music to the ears of restaurant owners.

Azzarello added, “I’m excited because our city can cherish and enjoy the artists we appreciate so much. This is an amazing experience to enjoy time together in Easthampton, in many, many moons”.

There has already been talk on spring programming and possibly turning this into a weekly or monthly series. This may include music, poetry, comedy, workshops, and other performances.

“This is a very versatile space where we can include many arts engagement and apply what we learned to develop the program moving forward,” she said.

Organizers said Easthampton residents did an exceptional job of following the rules. As long as it can be done safely, the community will continue to support these artists in any way possible.

Upcoming events are advertised through all the city’s social media channels. For more information, visit Easthampton City Arts Facebook page.

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Louise Jacob

Louise Jacob

wrote on 10/16/2020 at 11:15:43 AM

You mention social distancing but the people who needed this most are the ones who've already been isolated for seven long, lonely months and now face a bleak solitary winter. This could have been a lifeline, locally, if they'd publicized it in advance.