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$810,000 Awarded to 54 State-Designated Cultural Districts

Christian Kelly, Public Relations & Events Manager

photo of a boat in Gloucester Harbor, the city's skyline in the background
Gloucester Harbor. Photo: Visit MA.

Today at Gloucester Stage Company Mass Cultural Council hosted an event with local and state officials and cultural partners to announce and celebrate $810,000 in new grant funding to 54 state-designated cultural districts. These districts, located in host communities in every region of the Commonwealth, will receive awards from the Fiscal Year 2024 Cultural District Investment Grant Program. The grants are intended to encourage the development and success of the cultural districts and foster local cultural preservation.

“Using creativity as a foundation, our cultural districts have proven themselves as drivers of economic activity within communities,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council. “With this investment, we’re not only supporting the creative and cultural sector, but the communities that host cultural districts as they continue to leverage their unique character to attract visitors and support economic growth.”

As the Commonwealth’s independent state arts agency, Mass Cultural Council is charged with bolstering the creative and cultural sector, thereby advancing economic vitality, supporting transformational change, and celebrating, preserving, and inspiring creativity across all Massachusetts communities. The Agency pursues this mission through a broad range of programs, services, advocacy, and the equitable investment of public resources.

In this round, 54 cultural districts received $15,000 each to support activities and goals such as marketing and promotion; capacity building; artist or vendor fees; the development or implementation of creative community placemaking or public art; collaborative cultural policy or strategic planning processes; and community-engaged and informed data collection and/or reporting.

Established in 2011 by an act of the state Legislature, state-designated cultural districts drive economic growth, strengthen our communities’ distinctive local character, and improve the quality of life for families across Massachusetts. By supporting cultural and creative experiences, cultural districts attract tourists and entrepreneurs, which in turn help cities and towns develop their cultural sector and expand their tax base. Cultural districts are walkable areas with a density of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. They are easy-to-navigate, act as hubs of cultural, artistic, and economic activity, and offer a place-based identity to collaborative community initiatives.

Representatives of Gloucester’s two state-designated cultural districts, Rocky Neck and Harbortown, spoke at today’s event to detail the impact today’s grant will have in the community.

“Mass Cultural Council’s Cultural District Initiative has been a catalyst for collaboration among nonprofit arts organizations, individual artists and art makers, small businesses, and municipal leadership,” said Christopher Griffith of the Rocky Neck Cultural District. “This investment has allowed Rocky Neck and Harbortown Cultural Districts to collectively invite residents and visitors from afar to join local artists in celebrating the culture surrounding Gloucester’s harbor.”

“As one of the few municipalities blessed to host two cultural districts in the Commonwealth, Gloucester has a unique and intimate understanding of the power of culture within our community,” said Michael De Koster of the Harbortown Cultural District. “Whether in iconic Harbortown or historic Rocky Neck, our cultural districts create economic stability and raise the quality of life for local residents, all while celebrating the creatives, artists, and cultural institutions that define Gloucester. The investment in the Massachusetts Cultural Districts is the driving force in our placemaking strategy, enabling a weekly summer Culture Splash community event that highlights our district to visitors and locals alike.”

Mass Cultural Council was also joined by Gloucester Mayor Greg Verga and staff representatives for the offices of State Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R- Gloucester) and State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D- Gloucester) to celebrate today’s awards.

“Cultural programs, activities, initiatives and businesses not only enhance our quality of life, they are engines of our economy, driving it toward growth, economic development, and jobs,” said Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester). “These grants are investments that will pay enormous dividends in the days ahead, and spur even more interest in this sector.”

“Cape Ann has a long history of cultural contributions to the Commonwealth, country, and world, especially from Rocky Neck, one of the oldest continuously operating art colonies in the United States. Our communities have inspired and trained many homegrown artists into the nation’s collective of American impressionists. At the same time, some of the nation’s best impressionists were drawn to Cape Ann because of the special illumination that its natural light had on Cape Ann’s land and seascapes,” said Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester). “Our artistic and cultural communities continue to offer tremendous potential to foster economic growth and preserve our unique cultural assets and traditions. With these grants, the Massachusetts Cultural Council recognizes and celebrates the power of culture here on Cape Ann and across the Commonwealth.”

“Gloucester’s cultural districts, Harbortown and Rocky Neck, reflect our City’s celebrated arts community, rich heritage, and unique identity,” said Gloucester Mayor Greg Verga. “I am grateful for Mass Cultural Council’s continued support of Gloucester’s lively cultural districts. These hubs of culture and community play an important role in highlighting our character while attracting residents and visitors alike to attend cultural events or visit our local businesses.”

In the dozen years since the Massachusetts Cultural District Initiative was signed into law, the Agency’s governing Council has approved 55 cultural districts in communities statewide.

Working with staff dedicated to Mass Cultural Council’s Community Initiative, last year (FY23) our vibrant network of state-designated cultural districts reported on their economic impact, including:

  • More than 1.3 million attendees to their programs and events
  • More than 200 new businesses and/or organizations opened within their boundaries
  • An increase in overall visitation
  • Paying more than $600,000 directly to local artists

The success of the Initiative is being noticed. In September the Massachusetts Cultural District Initiative received the 2023 Urbanism Award from the New England Chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU New England).

Mass Cultural Council is proud to partner with, celebrate, and support Massachusetts’ cultural districts. Cities or towns interested in learning more about the Initiative are encouraged to connect with their assigned Community Initiative staff member.

Read the Complete Funding List

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