Cultural District Designation
Apply for Designation
Through the Cultural Districts Initiative, we offer support to municipalities looking to preserve and foster local cultural, community and economic development. We welcome preliminary conversations with communities that are interested in gaining a Cultural District designation. Please contact Cultural District Program Officer Carolyn Cole at 617-858-2727.
This program has a rolling application process. There are no formal deadlines.
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.
Once your application is complete, a site visit will be scheduled.
Cultural districts are areas with a density of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. It is an easy to navigate, compact area that acts as a hub of cultural, artistic, and economic activity and offers a place-based identity to collaborative community initiatives. As each district forms it will reflect its community, therefore no two cultural districts will be alike.
The primary goals of the Cultural Districts Initiative, as described in the legislative statute, are to:
- 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 and preserve local cultural development
Eligibility for Designation
- The applicant must be a city or town of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- The city or town must establish a cultural district partnership prior to applying for designation. The partnership will provide oversight and management of the district.
- The city or town must hold at least one community meeting. There must be adequate notice for public input and accessibility arrangements must be made.
- The city or town must pass a resolution committing to support a state designated cultural district. (See Sample Resolution.)
- The cultural district partnership must develop:
- Goals and objectives
- A plan for managing the district
- Assessment measures for the district
- The cultural district must have a mappable footprint.
- The cultural district must be compact, easy to navigate, and accessible.
- The cultural district must have cultural facilities and assets.
More information about these requirements follows.
Applicant: A municipal representative should be designated as the primary contact for the district and spearhead the application process. The city/town can invite a co-applicant to work on the application with them. A city or town may apply for more than one cultural district designation. Each designation requires a separate application.
Cultural District Partnerships and Management:
A municipality must form a cultural district partnership. The partnership must be a diverse mix of stakeholders who represent the shared interests of the district. The majority must be located within the district.
Organizations and individuals forming the partnership should include representatives of the following:
- City or town staff
- Local Cultural Council
- Cultural and/or Arts organization(s)
- At least two artists who live and/or work in the proposed district
- For-profit creative business (i.e. gallery, dance school)
- Local business
A city or town may elect to include additional entities. This will be dependent upon the available assets of the cultural district, and may include representatives of the following:
- Economic/Community Development or Planning Department
- Local or regional tourism bureau
- Historic Preservation Commission
- Chamber of Commerce
- Overlapping or aligning place-based district entity (i.e. BID, TDI District, Main Streets org., Historic District, TIF, etc.)
- Tribal government or other tribal representation
- Leisure industry, including hotels and similar businesses
- Education institutions
This partnership is responsible for developing a plan for management of the district. The plan must include agreed upon objectives such as roles, responsibilities, resources, sustainability plans, and ways to measure success and collect useful data. Success relates to the goals set out in the application for designation. The partnership must provide collective support to the district on a regular basis.
Third Party Management Agreement
As the applicant, the city or town may give the day-to-day management responsibilities to a cultural district partner. This third party will act as the city or town’s agent. The partner must be in good financial standing and have the capacity to lead the partnership. The city or town must remain involved 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 and 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 and should be reviewed by the city or town’s legal counsel before submitting an application.
Community Input Meeting
Any city or town applying for a state-designated cultural district must hold at least one publicly accessible community input meeting where people can learn about the proposed cultural district location and goals.
Length of Designation and Re-Designation Requirements
A cultural district designation will be in effect for 10 years, after which it is renewable for an additional 10 years.
Additional information pertaining to the Cultural District renewal process is available online.
Cities and towns should assess their readiness to apply and allow ample time to complete the application. The process can take several months.
The city or town may invite the third-party managing entity to be a co-applicant, granting them access to collaborate on the application for designation.
There are three significant stages to the designation process:
- Online Application
- Site Visit
- Final Decision
The online portion of the application is designed as a work plan. (See Sample Application.) It includes the following sections:
- District Management Team
- Cultural District Narrative
- District Partnership and Management Plan
- Municipal Resources
- Cultural Asset Inventory (checklist)
- Inventory of Public Infrastructure, Marketing, and Other Incentives (checklist)
Additional Application Documents
Use the following as a checklist:
- 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.)
- Map: Please provide a map of the proposed cultural district that shows the general footprint using shading or a dotted line. Note cultural district partners located outside of the proposed district.
- 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 in place. 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.
Please include any additional documentation you think is relevant to determining the scope of your proposed district.
Some examples may include zoning overlays, feasibility studies, vision planning results, municipal ordinances, etc.
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, with Mass Cultural Council staff and a site advisor, on a mutually agreed upon date.
Please note: Site visits do not take place in January or February.
The site visit has two distinct parts:
- A virtual or in-person meeting with the chief elected official, and other municipal employees, and cultural district partners and stakeholders
- A walking tour of the proposed district.
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 assessment report based on the submitted application and their observations during the site visit. This report should be utilized as a tool and resource for the cultural district and their managing entity, if applicable. Their report is reviewed by Mass Cultural Council and made available to the applicant after the governing Council’s vote.
Mass Cultural Council staff and the site advisor take approvals to the governing Council. Council members make all final decisions concerning state designation.
If the application is successful, staff will contact you to arrange a formal designation announcement including the coordination of media messaging and press announcements. If the application is not successful, staff will provide feedback upon request and discuss the process of reapplying.
During each 10 year designation period, districts must adhere to the following program requirements:
Annual Report: An Annual Report is required each year of the designated period. This report will be completed within our online grants management system and will provide an opportunity for districts to summarize their recent work. Report deadlines align with Mass Cultural Council’s fiscal year (July 1 – June 30).
Data Collection: Designated cultural districts must gather baseline data each year of the designation to the best of their ability that measures the impact of the district. Examples may include: aggregate sales tax in the district, number of full-time jobs, number of artists, box office sales, consumer surveys, and results of community input and/or public feedback.
Signage: The city or town must participate in the state cultural districts signage program requiring the hosting of four Mass Cultural Council branded signs. Associated costs TBD.
Five-Year Check-Ins: When entering every fifth year of designation, district entities will participate in a scheduled check-in with their Mass Cultural Council Program Officers. Additional follow-up requirements may apply based on the outcome of this check-in.
Learning Community: Districts will be expected to take part in 2 – 4 learning communities over the 10-year period with a focus on promoting access, equity, diversity, and inclusion.