Students, locals gather for Celebrate Amherst Block Party

By Hannah Depin

Grace Gulick/Collegian
Grace Gulick/Collegian

Students, families, and visitors gathered on N. Pleasant St. Thursday for a night of food, music, and entertainment during the fifth annual Celebrate Amherst Block Party.

N. Pleasant was closed to traffic from 5-8 p.m., while food vendors, musicians, hula-hoopers, jugglers, and circus performers took to the street.

“This is a great time for our community,” said event volunteer Pam Tinto. “Everyone comes together to have fun.”

This year’s block party marked the official launch of the Amherst Center Cultural District, a new initiative to bring together the town’s cultural landmarks. Amherst was designated the state’s 34th cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in May, after a months-long application process supported by the Amherst Public Arts Commission and the Amherst Business Improvement District, according to Eric Broudy, a member of the commission.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council sponsors cultural districts in areas that already have a high concentration of arts, unifying them and opening up funding opportunities, explained Broudy.

In addition to attracting funding and tourism to Amherst, the cultural district may help nearby college students “supplement their education” with the arts, said Public Arts Commission Chair Rene Theberge.

At a 6 p.m. ceremony in Kendrick Park, local administrators and politicians praised the town’s new distinction.

“This cultural district can bring us money, and also creates an atmosphere that will really draw people to downtown Amherst,” said town manager Paul Bockelman.

“This is new and this is good,” added State Representative Ellen Story, drawing applause from the crowd.

The block party also kicked off the fourth annual, weekend-long Amherst Poetry Festival, organized by the Emily Dickinson Museum. The festival began with the 6:30 p.m. event titled, “Doughnuts and Death: A Baker’s Dozen of Emily Dickinson’s Most Depressing Poems.”

“Gotta Read ‘Em All,” a Pokémon Go-inspired scavenger hunt from 5-8 p.m, encouraged participants to search for poems throughout the area, and they could receive a prize upon finding the full set. On Saturday, the festival will continue with a marathon reading of all 1,789 of Dickinson’s poems at her homestead at 6 a.m.

Local restaurants and businesses set up tents and tables along the block party route, with some offering samples and games to play for passersby. At the center of the route, performers from Show Circus of Easthampton demonstrated trapeze and other circus acts.

At the stage in Kendrick Park, rock bands Ex-Temper, Outer Stylie, and Trailer Park performed. Bluegrass band Rambling Kind and rock band Opel performed in front of Bruegger’s Bagels, while DJ Ragoza played music throughout the evening at the Hits 94.3 Stage at the intersection of N. Pleasant and Amity St.

“I’m a senior and this is the first time I’ve been here,” said University of Massachusetts student Sarah Button. “I wish I’d known about it sooner.”

UMass senior Celina Collins agreed. “It’s nice to see that people want to interact with college students,” she added.

Hannah Depin can be reached at [email protected]