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Northampton fire department shuts down nonprofit arts venue BOMBYX

The BOMBYX Center for Arts & Equity — a nonprofit which hosts concerts, fundraisers and workshops — remains closed. The Northampton, Massachusetts, fire department ordered it shut last week, which forced the last-minute cancellation of some events.

"The shutdown order had wide-reaching financial and community impacts," BOMBYX executive director Cassandra Holden and Board President Elizabeth Dunaway wrote in a letter addressed Monday to Mark Curtain, the city's fire prevention officer.

There is likely "a misunderstanding about what BOMBYX Center for Arts & Equity actually does," the letter said.

In an interview, Holden said fewer than 5% of its activities are concerts.

But the city said the venue comes under code for nightclubs — which requires a sprinkler system.

The code exempts religious groups like the Florence Congregational Church and Beit Ahavah, a reform synagogue, that hold services in the same space as BOMBYX. The building was constructed in the 1860s.

BOMBYX has been at the location for more than a year and a half.

"What we've discovered is the way they are operating doesn't conform with what can be done in that building right now with the conditions that they have," Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said. "The number of people and the time of day — the performances were falling into a category in which they don't have the proper safety equipment."

Sciarra said the city will give the nonprofit clear instructions by Friday afternoon about whether and how it might operate.

"I would love to see [BOMBYX] succeed," Sciarra said. "It's something that I certainly support. The question just is whether it can safely happen in that space."

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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