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Cultural Compact Pilot Program Findings

Lisa Simmons, Program Manager

Working together to elevate arts and culture in communities

Springfield mural project. Image: Timothea Pham.
Springfield mural project. Image: Timothea Pham.

Through our Community Initiative, Mass Cultural Council works to support all 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. Over the last two years, our Cultural Compact pilot program supported a new and innovative approach to elevating arts and culture in communities.

Mass Cultural Council’s Cultural Compact pilot provided funding to create formal partnerships, via signed agreement, in six communities – Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield, Lynn, New Bedford, and Harwich. We brought together municipal leaders, Local Cultural Councils, and Cultural Districts to work together to deepen the commitment of arts and culture in communities and strengthen relationships with those who support and create art in communities.

Each Cultural Compact articulates a common vision, defines shared values, and creates a framework for creative partnerships between local governments and cultural leaders in their respective community. Most importantly, the Cultural Compact is a commitment to the idea that culture is essential to the health and economic well-being of our Commonwealth.

Every community brings its own unique perspective – its own voice – to our cultural life. It’s what makes our work with communities a central part of our mission, and our community partners are in the best position to identify and nurture the specific organizations, artists, and individuals whose work gives the region its distinct cultural flavor.

At the core of the Cultural Compact was a set of principles that served as a foundation for a productive relationship between municipal governments, Local Cultural Councils, Cultural Districts, and the Mass Cultural Council. These principles include:

  • Shared leadership
  • Open communication
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Active engagement

We believe that involving the cultural community in the day-to-day decision-making at the municipal level creates the opportunity for culture to be at the center of a community’s life.

Each pilot community agreed to work together throughout the year with the aim of deepening commitments to support arts and culture in their community. That is exactly what happened. By working with these communities, bringing diverse players to the table to agree on programs to support, and commit to transparency and inclusivity, communities created stronger bonds and a deeper focus on arts and culture.

Take Worcester, for example. The City of Worcester, the Mass Cultural Council, the Salisbury Cultural District, the Worcester Arts Council and Worcester Cultural Coalition entered into a Cultural Compact in FY17. See their Cultural Compact (PDF). One of the custom commitments stipulated in it was:

“The City of Worcester’s Master Plan will include a cultural component known as the “Cultural Plan.” Mass Cultural Council shall provide up to $10,000 in support of the development of the citywide Cultural Plan. Once the Cultural Plan is complete, elements of the plan will be incorporated into the Compact.”

(On June 25, 2019, Worcester City Council voted unanimously to adopt Worcester’s first ever cultural plan, “Becoming Worcester: The Evolution of a Creative City.”)

We have found the tenets of the Compact, the communication between parties, and the inclusion of an arts and culture agenda at all levels of municipal government, increase the chance that arts and culture will have a larger and more visible impact in communities.

Some examples reported by pilot communities of their Cultural Compact successes include:


  • The City gave its first check in support of their cultural district, matching Mass Cultural Council’s grant, and designated $5,000 a year for murals.
  • The City hired a new position to further the work of the Compact.
  • The Mayor has participated in kick-off events to further arts engagement such as their painted piano project.


  • Community awareness has increased and the Local Cultural Council was elevated through its role in the Compact.
  • Chamber of Commerce is now involved, and folks want to join the Local Cultural Council.
  • Community is now convening to talk about applying for a Cultural District after an earlier attempt didn’t coalesce.
  • Artists space now has attention and importance.
  • More support for a cultural center due to the awareness of the Compact.


  • The Mayor has an open door policy for the arts community. The Mayor is nicknamed “Gamechanger”.
  • Carolyn Cole, Director of the Downtown Lynn Cultural District, has monthly meetings with the Mayor and his community relations coordinator.
  • Partnerships with the municipality on projects at City Hall.
  • Mention of the Compact within State of the City Address by the Mayor.
  • Artwork displayed in City Hall, senior centers, high schools, and homeless centers.
  • Mural festivals attracting businesses to the downtown area.

New Bedford

  • Great support from the city for arts and culture and community involvement.
  • Meetings are now combined with all Compact partners (instead of five separate meetings).
  • Opportunities to build efficiency, focused work, and capacity moving forward.


  • Partnership is reinforced through the Compact.
  • Local Cultural Council sits on the board with the coalition, regular meetings with city manager, partnership with Salisbury Cultural District, and the City Manager continues to push the city to achieve more.
  • The cultural plan is now a part of the city master plan.
  • The Compact reintroduced and reinforces the work of the Local Cultural Council.
  • The city and leadership is adopting universal design and education as an integral/essential part of the community.


  • Reinforced new and existing partnerships throughout the city and community.
  • The community development director now works with Jen Glockner, Director of the City of Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development, more to further development projects like Tyler St. and others across the city.
  • For the first time, the Local Cultural Council is preparing a joint presentation for the city council Glockner/Cultural District/Compact partners.

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