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Mass Cultural Council Approves Two New Cultural Districts on Cape Cod

Bethann Steiner, Public Affairs Director

Harwich Center Cultural District and Harwich Port Cultural District authorized to join vibrant network of 53 state-designated cultural districts across the Commonwealth.

graphic of a street sign for the Harwich Port Cultural District

graphic of a street sign for the Harwich Center Cultural District
Street sign graphics for the new cultural districts

Today during the 157th business meeting of the Mass Cultural Council, two new state-designated cultural districts were approved, both located in the Cape Cod community of Harwich. This action increases the number of state-designated cultural districts in the Commonwealth to a record-high 53.

“Congratulations to Harwich! Mass Cultural Council is so pleased to welcome both the Harwich Center and the Harwich Port Cultural Districts to the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council. “These designations honor the cultural vibrancy of the community and will support programming that spurs creative activity and economic growth year-round in Harwich.”

Mass Cultural Council, an independent state arts agency, is charged with bolstering the Commonwealth’s creative and cultural sector. The Agency’s efforts advance economic vitality, support transformational change, and celebrate, preserve, and inspire creativity across all Massachusetts communities.

Established in 2011 by an act of the state Legislature, the Cultural Districts Initiative drives economic growth, strengthens the distinctive local character of communities, and improves the quality of life for families across Massachusetts. By supporting cultural and creative experiences, each of the Commonwealth’s 53 state-designated cultural districts attract tourists and entrepreneurs, which helps cities and towns develop their cultural sector and expand their tax base. Cultural districts are located in communities of all sizes in every region of Massachusetts, and are easy to navigate areas with a density of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. They act as hubs of cultural, artistic, and economic activity, and offer a place-based identity to collaborative community initiatives.

The road to today’s designations began in 2018, when Harwich participated in Mass Cultural Council’s Cultural Compact pilot program. The pilot supported new and innovative approaches to elevating arts and culture in communities, which for Harwich included the recommendation to pursue the approval of state-designated cultural districts.

“This is wonderful news for the Town of Harwich,” said State Representative Sarah K. Peake (D- Provincetown). “I am very pleased that Mass Cultural Council is awarding this cultural designation in both Harwich Port and Harwich Center. Cultural district designations successfully highlight the rich cultural diversity in the community.”

detail of a map depicting the geographic outlines of both cultural districts
Map of the new districts boundaries

Harwich, known as a quiet resort and agricultural community on the south side of the Cape peninsula with an extensive shoreline on Nantucket Sound, has a local economy driven primarily by cranberry farming and tourism. It hosts a rich and diverse mix of cultural, recreational, and historic assets complemented by vibrant retail, gallery, and restaurant amenities. Harwich also offers parking, public restrooms, and tourist information facilities that are critical for visitors. Cultural facilities and parks that host musical performances, public art installations, and cultural organizations are located through the community.

“Harwich offers residents and visitors alike a wide variety of cultural offerings, including art galleries, marketplaces, marinas, historic buildings, museums, parks, and libraries. I’m thrilled the Harwich Port Cultural District and the Harwich Center Cultural District have both been granted status as state-designated cultural districts. This new designation will help bolster cultural and economic development to the benefit of our year-round and seasonal community,” said State Senator Julian A. Cyr (D- Truro).

The Harwich Center Cultural District includes numerous historic facilities in a compact and navigable area, such as important historical assets, small unique retail and restaurants, pocket parks, and a large municipal park. The 204/Harwich Cultural Center, a repurposed elementary school, is now the vibrant home for over 40 artists and creators and the scene for various musical and recreational activities.

“Cultural and creative arts, such as music, art, drama, creative writing, photography and dance are the tools that help connect us with our neighbors, friends, and family. Ultimately that is what pulls us together as a community,” said Erika Nickerson, Beach Cottage Living – Harwich Center Creative. “Simply, the arts are a platform that make life more joyful, beautiful, and inspiring. The Harwich Center Cultural District designation will continue to help us strive to bring the community together and is such a key asset for the Town of Harwich.”

The Harwich Port Cultural District is a main street with a mix of commercial uses, including retail, restaurants, and galleries. It also includes Art in Park, Port Nights, and sea shanties that are the summer homes for visiting artists.

“What exciting news and an incredible opportunity for Harwich Port to be recognized as a cultural district by the State of Massachusetts!” said Becca Ahrensfeld, Reciprocity an Artisans Market, Harwich Port. “This designation will give our local artists and artisans, as well as the shops and galleries the support these talented individuals deserve. It will provide a broader audience of year-round visitors seeking music, art, and culinary experiences. To have this opportunity to have Harwich Port shine is truly an honor.”

The two Districts are surrounded by walking and bike trails, conservation land, municipal parks, and other historical and cultural facilities that offer programming and other activities. These diverse physical and programmatic assets serve both the tourists and visitors and the growing year-round community of permanent residents.

Earlier this month Mass Cultural Council celebrated a record-high $750,000 investment supporting the cultural district network. Because of today’s Council action, both the Harwich Center and Harwich Port Cultural Districts are eligible to receive $15,000 each to support activities and goals that encourage their development and success, such as marketing and promotion, capacity building, artist or vendor fees, the development or implementation of creative community placemaking, placekeeping, or public art, collaborative cultural policy or strategic planning processes, or community-engaged and informed data collection and/or reporting.

“The cultural districts will only enhance our vibrant local economy. Arts and culture continue to draw more people, more dollars, and more vitality to the Town of Harwich,” said Richard Waystack, Harwich Port Realtor.

Learn More About the Cultural Districts

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