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Creative Communities: Shopping Small, Making a Big Difference

Ann Petruccelli Moon, Public Engagement Manager

sign for Rockport Cultural District
Redesigned Massachusetts Cultural District sign by Rusty and Ingrid Kinnunen of Rockport.

Last week at its most recent virtual gathering of the year, Mass Cultural Council’s Community Initiative staff moderated a panel discussion focused on the work small businesses are doing in the state’s most creative communities and how that work has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic. The conversation made it clear that the creative energy in each community greatly contributed to businesses’ efforts to pivot, serve their communities, and survive this challenging year.

Just a couple examples of what we are hearing:

Kim Jones opened Strong Style Coffee in Fitchburg in 2018. Prior to the pandemic, the mural and art-filled cafe was hosting events seven days a week including poetry readings, children’s programming, open mic nights, and live musical performances. That, of course, changed when Strong Style had to close its doors in March. Knowing that she had a commercial kitchen sitting temporarily dormant, Kim shifted gears and began using that kitchen to package foods donated by local farmers into meals for Growing Places, a Central MA nonprofit organization that seeks to create equitable access to healthy food and food security. Kim has also opened Strong Style to local artists who are without a brick-and-mortar space from which to sell their artwork.

Susie and Doug Rich are the owners of a bookstore, Susie’s Stories, in the Rockport Cultural District. Like Kim, Susie and Doug opened in 2018 and were heading into their second year of business when the pandemic hit. Originally established as a children’s bookstore, Susie and Doug switched gears slightly and began selling books of all kinds via curbside pick-up once they were permitted to do so – books people might be looking for, and books that might surprise them. With libraries across the state closed for many months, they sensed that members of their community missed going out to get books. They were pleased to be able to provide that experience, along with a growing calendar of virtual events including children’s book readings for the holidays every day in December.

Peter Tomyl, President of the Mohawk Trail Association, shared his success partaking in the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism (MOTT)’s My Local MA campaign. He also spoke of a local bed & breakfast owner in his district who shared coupons to her neighboring coffee shop and successfully bolstered business on Main Street in doing so, and applauded area museums for taking advantage of the Berkshires’ trails and outdoor spaces and bringing artwork outside for visitors to enjoy.

You can watch the panel discussion in its entirety.

Many Massachusetts Cultural Districts are planning safe, socially distanced, outdoor events this holiday season. The Districts are brimming with art, music, and fantastic small businesses like those highlighted here. Pay them a visit! And while you’re there, keep an eye out for our vibrant new Cultural District signs which were designed by another dynamic Rockport duo: Rusty and Ingrid Kinnunen, an artist couple who met while attending the Massachusetts College of Art & Design. Rusty and Ingrid have a passion for making beautiful handcrafted fine art and have created new signs with five different themes for the Districts: Main Street, Coastal, Mill, Rural, and Metropolitan.

Luis Cotto, Program Manager for Mass Cultural Council’s Cultural Districts Initiative, will hold a virtual check-in for Cultural District stakeholders on December 17.

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