As many Easthampton residents do, Marjory Zaik has deep ties to the historic New City Neighborhood. A 1930s family photograph pictures her aunts Stella and Helen laughing while cheerfully leaning against the rail of their Federal Street home porch in the neighborhood.
Nearly a century later, that same porch will open to the public on Sept. 30 for Porchfest, an event that invites neighbors and visitors to listen to local music and form community in New City backyards, porches and driveways.
“The neighborhood has a history of being neighborly,” said Zaik, who had attached her family’s photograph in a Facebook post anticipating Porchfest before she even knew the home so special to her childhood would be one hosting a band at the event.
“An event like this fosters community, gets people out of their houses and onto the porch, onto the street and interacting,” she added.
Between 1 and 5 p.m., community members will stroll the streets of New City Neighborhood, enjoying the sounds of 12 local bands playing on six porches throughout the afternoon.
Music and arts events are integral to Easthampton, with Millpond Live, Art Walk, Cultural Chaos and other such happenings filling the city with local arts and culture.
Porchfest is a way to “integrate public practice and private space,” according to City Arts Coordinator Pasqualina Azzarello.
“It’s a little bit more grassroots and intentionally DIY than some of the more established festivals and events here in town,” said Steve Collicelli, an organizer of the event and, by coincidence, owner of the home Zaik’s family previously lived in.
Porchfest is a nationwide event that first started in Ithaca, New York, in 2007 as an effort to unite neighbors through music.
Since then, it has expanded to almost 180 known cities and towns across the United States.
Last year, Collicelli and his wife, Felicia Jadczak, brought to Easthampton City Arts the idea of organizing a Porchfest in Easthampton. The two had previously lived outside of Boston and attended a much larger version of the event in Somerville.
“We just loved Porchfest, this whole idea of inviting the public into private spaces and meeting your neighbors, helping out neighbors, just the creativity of all that,” said Collicelli. “We’re hoping that this year is a success, and that we can then scale it up a little bit, and maybe do more neighborhoods next year.”
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and River Valley Coop, and with a pedestrian route crafted by the police department, this year’s Easthampton Porchfest features music ranging from indie to jazz, rock, folk and more.
Also happening on Saturday, Sept. 30 starting at 10:00 a.m. is the Fall Maker’s Market, which will feature local potters, jewelers, woodworkers, painters, and other artists, along with local food vendors.
“People can go there in the morning, and then they can head over to New City. I mean, what a day to support and experience arts and culture in the city of Easthampton,” said Azzarello.
“And Porchfest is part of a whole culture,” she added. “We feel like the New City Neighborhood of Easthampton is the perfect place to begin this tradition.”
Built during the Industrial Revolution, the densely populated New City neighborhood was mainly occupied by immigrant families who had come to work in the local mills.
“New City is not where you would think the arts would be happening … This was a working-class neighborhood,” said Zaik, whose grandparents were Polish immigrants in the neighborhood. “It’s very special to me that an arts-related event is happening on the porches of the former homes of immigrant families.”
“The neighborhood has changed, but it’s just great to see it reactivated culturally, and reflecting the interests of its current residents,” Zaik added.
In a photo taken recently at Zaik’s grandparents’ old home, now-owners Collicelli and Jadczak sit on their porch steps smiling with their arms wrapped around one another.
“Seeing those two photos side-by side really emphasizes the consistency, richness and vitality of Easthampton,” said Azzarello. “It’s just so beautiful, all of the stitching of the history and that sense of integration within the community.”
Maddie Fabian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.