Cultural District Designation
Apply for Designation
Cultural District designation has a rolling application process. There are no deadlines.
We welcome preliminary conversations with communities that are interested in gaining a cultural district designation, so encourage constituents in communities considering applying to contact Cultural District Program Officer Carolyn Cole at 617-858-2727.
How to Apply
Confirm if your city or town is eligible by reading the designation guidelines below.
Contact Cultural Districts program staff to discuss any questions.
Create an organizational profile for your city or town to access the online application. The online application includes a narrative section and an asset inventory form. Use the narrative questions to help with the planning. Use the inventory in the application to map cultural assets.
Once your application is complete, a site visit will be scheduled.
What is a Cultural District?
A cultural district is a specific area in a city or town. The proposed district has a density of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. It is a walkable, compact area. It is easy for visitors and residents to recognize. It is a hub of cultural, artistic and economic activity. Mass Cultural Council knows that each community is unique. No two cultural districts will be alike.
Who Can Apply?
Any city or town in Mass can apply for cultural district designation. The city or town is the applicant for a cultural district designation. The city or town must identify a specific area in their city or town. The city or town must establish a partnership. The partnership includes organizations and stakeholders in the district. A city or town may apply for more than one cultural district designation. Each designation requires a separate application.
Cultural Districts Goals
The goals of the cultural districts, described in the legislative statue, are:
- Attract artists and cultural enterprises
- Encourage business and job development
- Establish the district as a tourist destination
- Preserve and reuse historic buildings
- Enhance property values
- Foster local cultural development
Length of Designation
A cultural district designation will be in effect for five years. An annual progress report is required each year. A designation is renewable for an additional five years. The district partnership must have maintained compliance with reporting requirements. If there is a desire to continue with the designation, the municipality must recommit to its cultural district’s work, in the form of a resolution passed by its legislative body (Select Board or Council).
Cultural District Partnerships and Management
The applicant must be a city or town. The application is submitted by the municipality’s chief elected or appointed official. A municipal department should be designated as the contact for the district.
Before submitting an application, a municipality must form a cultural district partnership. The partnership must be a diverse mix of stakeholders. The partnership must represent the shared interests of the district. The majority must be in the district.
Organizations and individuals that should be included in the cultural district partnership are:
- City or town staff
- Local Cultural Council members
- Cultural organization(s)
- At least two artists that live and/or work in the proposed district
- Organization(s) that represents artists
- For profit creative business (i.e. gallery, dance school)
- Local business and/or chamber of commerce
A city or town may elect to include additional entities. This depends on the assets in the cultural district, and the district’s goals. They can be:
- Historic preservation
- Leisure industry, including hotels and similar businesses
- Education institutions
Define the partners roles and duties. Decide on a meeting schedule, terms of office and other expectations. The partnership is responsible for developing a management plan. The plan must include agreed upon objectives. This includes: tasks, resources, timelines, and milestones. It should include ways to measure success. Success relates to the goals set out in the application for designation. The partnership will convene on a regular basis.
Third Party Arrangement
As the applicant, the city or town may give the day-to-day management to a cultural district partner. The third party will act as the city or town’s agent. The partner must be in good financial standing. The partner must have the capacity to lead the partnership. However, the city or town must be in the partnership.
A written agreement is necessary if the day-to-day management is given to a third party. The agreement between the city or town and the third partner outlines the tasks. The agreement must include an exit plan for either party. Fiscal arrangements, reporting, and so on, must be included. The agreement should be in line with local municipal regulations. The agreement should be reviewed by the city or town’s legal counsel before submitting an application. The city or town may invite the third party managing to be a co-applicant on the application which allows the third party to collaborate on the application for designation.
The partnership may include cultural for profit or not for profit organizations that are outside the geographic boundaries of the district. Those organizations must produce cultural programming within the district. The cultural district may promote them in cultural district materials.
For advice, contact Mass Cultural Council staff.
Community Input Meeting
Any city or town applying for a state-designated cultural district must hold at least one community input meeting. This is so that people can learn about the cultural district map and goals.
Resolution by the City/Town
The city or town must pass a resolution in favor of the application for the designation.
Eligibility for Designation
- The applicant must be a city or town of the Commonwealth of Mass.
- The cultural district must have defined boundaries.
- The cultural district must be walkable and accessible.
- The cultural district must have cultural facilities and assets.
- The city or town must hold at least one community meeting. There must be adequate notice for public input. The city or town must pass a resolution. This is to commit to supporting a state designated cultural district. (See Sample Resolution.)
- The city or town must establish a cultural district partnership. This is prior to applying for designation. The partnership will provide oversight and management of the district.
- The cultural district partnership must develop:
- Goals and objectives
- A management plan
- A marketing plan
- Assessment measures for the district
The city or town must participate in the state cultural districts signage program. Required purchase is four signs. This will incur some costs. Each sign costs $142 (as of November 2021).
The program has a rolling application process. There are no deadlines.
Cities and towns should assess their readiness to apply. Allow ample time to complete the application. The process can take several months.
There are several stages to the designation process. Review all the requirements.
Creating and submitting a map of the proposed district. Developing an asset key.
Completing an online application.
Submitting supplemental documents by mail.
Coordinating and conducting a site visit.
Creating and submitting a map of the proposed district. Developing an asset key.
A map of the proposed district must be submitted for review. This should be prior to completing the online application. This is prior to sending in the additional documents.
Use the online application inventory of assets. This defines and locates the proposed district’s cultural assets.
Submit one map of the proposed district as well as digital file of the map. The map should show the proposed boundaries (color maps are best). Include a key to the assets and define a scale of distance.
The map should show the proposed boundaries (color maps are best). Include a key to the assets and define a scale of distance.
The map should mark the proposed boundaries of the district. Show the location of cultural assets. Include the following:
- Cultural facilities
- Artistic spaces
- Cultural activities (in and out of doors such as festivals etc.), creative businesses
Mark cultural assets located outside the proposed district on the map. Note cultural district partners located outside of the proposed district.
Create maps by using a city or town’s Redevelopment Authority, Planning Department, GIS department, or a web tool such as Google Maps.
Submit the map by mail to:
Cultural Districts Initiative
Mass Cultural Council
10 St. James Avenue, 3rd floor
Boston, MA 02116
The Cultural Districts Initiative Manager will review the submitted map and additional materials. They will contact you to discuss the map and potential boundary issues.
Please note that in most cultural district designation applications the map boundaries are revised based on the review process.
Completing an Online Application
The online portion of the application is designed as a work plan. Use the narrative section to help refine your district’s goals and objectives. Use the inventory section to assess cultural assets.
Submitting Additional Application Documents
All items are required for an application to be reviewed. Allow plenty of time to collect all the documents.
Use the following as a check list:
- Letter of Endorsement from Chief Elected Official
- Copy of Resolution from City Council / Board of Selectmen.
- The resolution is the commitment to establish a state designated cultural district (See Sample Resolution.)
- Master Map: Please provide a map of the cultural district.
- One copy should be signed by the appropriate municipal official, denoting approval of the proposed boundaries. This is the copy that should be mailed to the Mass Cultural Council. A digital image of the map can be uploaded in the application.
- Evidence of Resources/Planning for the district using the Municipal Resources Sheet.
- Third party agreement (if relevant):
- If the city or town has made a third-party arrangement for the oversight and management of the cultural district, there must be a written agreement. This should be in line with municipal regulations and reviewed by the city or town’s legal counsel. The agreement should outline each party’s tasks and duties.
- Audited accounts (if relevant):
- If the city or town has made a third-party arrangement for the oversight and management of the cultural district, the managing organization must submit its most recent audited accounts.
- Official legal documents on zoning overlays or ordinances relevant to the cultural district.
- Marketing materials, if relevant to the cultural district.
- Reports, feasibility studies, visioning results, and/or news articles regarding a proposed district (if relevant).
Once the application is complete, staff will be in contact to arrange a site visit. The site visit involves a tour of the proposed cultural district. The tour involves Mass Cultural Council staff and a site advisor on a mutually-agreed date.
Please note: Site visits do not take place in January and February.
The site visit has three distinct parts:
- A virtual meeting with the chief elected official and other municipal employees
- A walking tour of the proposed district limiting participation to conform to local COVID protocol.
- A virtual meeting with the cultural district partners and stakeholders
The applicant and partners should be prepared to respond to questions.
Confirmation of the site visit agenda and attendees is required at least two weeks in advance of the site visit.
The site advisor will write a site visit report. The report is based on the review criteria and their observations during the site visit. Their report is reviewed by Mass Cultural Council. The report will be made available to the applicant after the governing Council’s vote.
Applications will be assessed based on the following categories:
- Management Plan
- Cultural Assets
- Creative Programming
- Public Infrastructure and Amenities
- Marketing Plan
- Goals and Success Measures
Mass Cultural Council staff and the site advisor take approvals to the governing Council. Council members make all final decisions concerning state designation.
Following the Council vote, notice of the outcome of the application the city or town is by letter.
If the application is successful, staff will contact you to arrange a designation. They will discuss media messages with you. If the application is not successful staff will discuss how to reapply.
An annual progress report is required each year of the five-year designated period. Report deadlines align with Mass Cultural Council’s fiscal year (July 1 – June 30).
The impact of a cultural district is tangible and measurable. Designated cultural districts must gather baseline data. This is each year of the designation.
Visitors – Track percentage growth or loss of visitors to the district.
Building Occupancy – Changes in occupancy rates.
You must track data that measures the impact of the district. The data should reflect the district’s specific goals. Examples include: aggregate sales tax in the district, number of full-time jobs, number of artists, box office sales, consumer surveys.