This Weekend: Food and Fire in Union Square


“It’s kind of like a nighttime street market,” Somerville Arts Council Cultural Director Rachel Strutt says of the Ignite! Festival, which comes to Union Square this Saturday, August 13.

Ignite! will showcase the usual roaming street performances, and of course, the super hot displays from fire spinners are a huge draw. There will be belly dancers and buskers and La Danza de los Viejitos, or the Dance of the Little Old Men, which finds everyone—men, women and children alike—dressing up as old men.

And then, there’s the food. Lots of it.

With twice as many food vendors as in previous years, you’ll be able to grab Haitian fare from the new Winter Hill restaurant Pikliz, Machu Picchu’s outstanding Peruvian dishes and even hot chili ice cream from Gracie’s. Arts Council Nibble Culinary Entrepreneurs will serve up Venezuelan arepas and Mexican agua frescas. “For the culinarily adventurous people out there, there’s going to be a lot of good opportunities to graze,” Strutt says. There are also interactive food activities on the agenda, including a “global snack attack” that lets visitors try foods from around the world and guess their countries of origin.


Strutt notes that the Arts Council first started presenting this fiery annual celebration because as they began doing more and more food programming, “We thought it was about time to have a full-on festival to celebrate global food as represented in Union Square,” she says. The evening grew out of Arts Union, which promotes cultural economic development in the square, and the festival focus is on the area restaurants and markets that make Union such a diverse and delicious place to be.

“We feel that’s so important,” Strutt says, noting that the hope is that people will return to the markets and eateries in Union long after the festival draws to a close. “If the little international markets and restaurants get pushed out of Union Square, we’re losing the flavor and the soul of Union Square.”

One slight change this year: For the first time ever, the Arts Council is asking visitors to bring a $1 donation with them. Strutt explains that the festival is becoming bigger and better—which is great! But it’s therefore growing more expensive to pull off. Your dollar will go a long way, and you’ll also get a cute tiger sticker to show for it. Visitors can also bring a nonperishable food item for a can drive to support the Somerville Homeless Coalition. The festival is about food, after all, and addressing food insecurity is a part of that.

All in all, Strutt says that the evening will be loose, fun—and probably just a little bit chaotic.

“In the final days, we just start inviting street performers,” Strutt laughs. “I called Keytar Bear—he says he’s coming!”

You can find more info on the festival, including the complete schedule of food demonstrations, on Facebook.