“Displacement is not business, it’s disruption,” Sophia Belle, who had been a tenant of the EMF building, told a crowd at the rally to “Save EMF” at Brattle Plaza in Harvard Square this afternoon.

Since the spring, tenants of the building at 120 Brookline St., near Cambridge’s Central Square, and their allies have been fighting to preserve the music and arts community in the building in the face of an order from John DiGiovanni, the building’s owner, for everyone—including some 200 musicians and artists as well as recording studios—to leave the building by April 30.

Sophia Belle speaks at the "Save EMF" rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Sophia Belle speaks at the “Save EMF” rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)

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In 2016, DiGiovanni quietly bought the three-story brick building thorugh his Trinity Property Management company for $4 million. A group of tenants and allies, which came to call themselves Cambridge Artist Coalition, has objected to DiGiovanni’s plans to oust them and appeared as Cambridge City Council meetings seeking help this spring.

Cambridge city officials helped negotiate an extension allowing tenants to say through May 31 as the city explored buying or leasing the building long-term from DiGiovanni to maintain it as an artists building. But the city backed away from the idea after a city inspection, saying the building was in too poor condition. Most tenants departed the building by the end of May, though a handful remained to force the issue.

“It’s been a long process. When we received the notices to quit the building, we ended up going to the City Council to get things done. That way wasn’t particularly effective,” says Steve Onderick, who rented a room for four years at the EMF building that he used as a video studio. “We did finally end up having a meeting with John DiGiovanni [during the first week of June]. That was a few days after we already were supposed to be out of the building. We had tried to meet with him repeatedly before that, but he didn’t really respond to us. The meeting with him didn’t really seem to be something that could lead to maintaining the building as an affordable music and arts community. From what I saw, he seemed like he was pretty locked into his business man’s world view, he didn’t seem willing to sacrifice any profit on behalf of the community. So the general point that I’m trying to make is we went through all the official channels on this. We attempted to work with him. We attempted to go through the government. Basically none of those methods have resulted in what we want, which is to maintain the building as an affordable music and arts community. So we’re out here [at the Make Music Festival Harvard Square] expressing our First Amendment rights to try to put pressure on John DiGiovanni, the city, and the Harvard Square Business Association.”

Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band plays at the "Save EMF" rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band plays at the “Save EMF” rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)

The Cambridge Artist Coalition organized today’s “Occupy The 11th Annual Make Music Harvard Square Festival” because the event is organized by the Harvard Square Business Association, where DiGiovanni serves as president, and the association also asks musicians to play for free at the event.

“Make Music is an international event, however, its implications in Harvard Square are deeply upsetting to the EMF community. Every year, musicians play for free while the Harvard Square Business Association, headed by John P. DiGiovanni, reaps the benefits of the crowds we bring in. Not only is he actively evicting the music community, but he still expects to profit from our labor,” organizers Stee Onderick, Ben Simon and Sophia Belle wrote on facebook. “Occupy Make Music will be a peaceful demonstration to show
– that we have eyes on the HSBA for being complacent in their president’s actions towards EMF
– that we are intent on fighting this cycle of displacement,
– that we expect our elected officials to definitively support artists and reject the donations/courtship of developers
– that we are a kickass artistic community that refuses to be quiet.”

"Which Cambridge City Councilors Haver Received The Most $$ From John DiGiovanni?" sign at the "Save EMF" rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
“Which Cambridge City Councilors Haver Received The Most $$ From John DiGiovanni?” sign at the “Save EMF” rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)

Handouts organizers distributed at the rally listed four demands: “1. Mr. DiGiovanni must return EMF to the community by selling it to the city of Cambridge. 2. The City of Cambridge must purchase the building. 3. Mr. DiGiovanni must refund the 12-months of rent he collected from EMF tenants while under what he himself called ‘unsafe conditions’ and ‘inappropriate for any use.’ 4. HSBA must removed Mr. DiGiovanni from his position of power within their organization if he does not comply with these demands.”

“Everyone can probably agree that what Mr. DiGiovanni is doing may be legal, but it’s not right,” says state Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge, who attended today’s rally. “I’m in support of the demands that are being discussed here. There need to be refunds to tenants who have been paying their rent faithfully. I’d like to see Mr. DiGiovanni sell the building to the city or a nonprofit. This building can be renovated, but it needs to be maintained as an affordable cultural space. … I hope Mr. DiGiovanni will come to the table and get faith and try to make something right.”


Help Wonderland keep producing our great coverage of local arts, cultures and activisms (and our great festivals) by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting.


Jonee Earthquake Band plays at the "Save EMF" rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Jonee Earthquake Band plays at the “Save EMF” rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Dancing as the Jonee Earthquake Band plays at the "Save EMF" rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Dancing as the Jonee Earthquake Band plays at the “Save EMF” rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
"Save EMF" rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
“Save EMF” rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
"Save EMF" rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)
“Save EMF” rally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, June 16, 2018. (Greg Cook)