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Cultural Districts Report Solid Economic Indicators

Carolyn Cole, Program Officer

Photo of a helmeted person on a pogo stick up super high in the air, with both arms extend away from the handle. In the background a bright blue sky dotted with clouds. On both sides of the performer, brick factory buildings frame the asphalt lot acting as a stage. The perimeter of the lot is covered with onlooking audience members who are both standing and seated.
Wacky Chad performing at an event in Lenox Cultural District. Photo: Berkshire Busk! staff.

Mass Cultural Council strives to offer funding and ongoing support to cities and towns to encourage the development and success of our state-designated Cultural Districts because we acknowledge and value their contributions to our communities and our economy.

If our most recent annual report submissions showed us one thing, it was that Cultural Districts are fulfilling their charge to:

  • Drive economic growth
  • Strengthen our distinctive local character
  • Improve the quality of life of people across Massachusetts

In Fiscal Year 2023, Cultural Districts across the Commonwealth reported:

  • More than 1.3 million attendees to their programs and events
  • More than 200 new businesses and/or organizations opened within their boundaries (44 districts reporting)
  • An increase in visitation to the cumulative tune of 1,307% (48 districts reporting)
  • Paying more than $600,000 directly to local artists!

You can take that right to the bank. Massachusetts artists did.

Now let’s look at a measurement tool beyond just the numbers, because visitors experiencing a district, or any city or town for that matter, aren’t considering the numbers. They’re considering how the place makes them feel. SMU DataArts recently released their report of the Top 40 Arts-Vibrant Communities of 2022 based on data collected from both entities as well as communities. (The use of the term “vibrancy” in this case keeps with the definition of “pulsating with life, vigor, or activity”.)

The vibrancy assessment consists of determining:

  1. Supply from total arts providers
  2. Demand with measures of nonprofit arts dollars in the community
  3. Public support as state and federal arts funding. This evaluation renders the ability to capture many different components of vibrancy across diverse communities.

In every division of their official ranking of Vibrant Communities across the country – from large, to medium, to small – exists at least one Massachusetts designated Cultural District.

Large communities

  • Boston
  • Cambridge-Newton-Framingham

Medium communities

  • Pittsfield

Small communities

  • Vineyard Haven

SMU DataArts’ report also dove into the effect that local arts agencies have on the vibrancy of their communities. Their overall findings determined that local arts agencies are ‘catalysts for arts vibrancy in communities throughout the country,’ which translates, in our case, specifically through the physical existence of a Cultural District.

But wait – that’s not all. Another recent national report also highlights the economic powerhouse of another Massachusetts Cultural District.

Americans for the Arts (AFTA)’s AEP6 study demonstrates locally, as well as nationally, arts and culture are a critical economic driver of vibrant communities by using a rigorous methodology to document the economic and social contributions of the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture industry.

AFTA recently partnered with a community participant, Springfield Cultural Partnership, which houses the Springfield Central Cultural District, to study the economic and social Impact of the nonprofit arts and culture sector in Springfield, MA.

Their findings revealed that, in 2022, Springfield’s nonprofit arts and culture industry:

  • Generated $82.4 million in economic activity, including:
    • $53.3 million in spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations
    • $29 million in event-related spending by their audiences
  • Supported 1,483 jobs
  • Generated $15.3 million in local, state, and federal government revenue.

The full AEP6 national report and Springfield report are available online.

Whether you’re measuring using numbers or vibrancy indices, or focusing on the overall impact of where those methods meet in the middle, time and time again you’ll find results within our state’s Cultural Districts Initiative.

Learn More About Cultural Districts

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