The MCC board of directors held its August meeting at Mass MoCA, where it voted on North Adams' application for cultural district.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Massachusetts Cultural Commission on Tuesday added two new cultural districts to the state's creative economy map: North Adams and Arlington.
The two districts bring the number of cultural districts across the state to 43.
"We've had North Adams in our sights for quite a long time," said MCC Executive Director Anita Walker. "It was one of the communities we sort of imagined when we started the program that could be a cultural district."
But Pittsfield was first on mark, earning its designation back in 2012, selected with four others out of pool of 100 seeking the new designation just created by the Legislature two years before. In a nod to the success of the program, Pittsfield and nine others sought and received five-year renewals in the program on Tuesday as well.
Mayor Richard Alcombright described it as a "prestigious designation."
"For the city, this was a labor of love and collaboration in submitting the application in 2016, put together by many community stakeholders, excited residents and the hard work of MCLA, BCRC ... and the Office of Tourism," he said at a reception held at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art following the August meeting of the MCC board of directors. He also congratulated the contingent from Arlington, "our bookends on Route 2, the real Mass Pike," which evoked laughter.
The process had begun some four years before but was derailed for a time by staffing changes. Last year, the city's events coordinator, Suzy Helme, and then Berkshire Cultural Resource Center Director Jennifer Crowell pushed through the application with an updated plan and input from stakeholders.
The goal of cultural districts is to attract artists, encourage business development, create tourist destinations, preserve historic structures, enhance property values and foster local cultural development.
The designation will help in marketing the city and will include signage and a map detailing the cultural and historical elements of the walkable area. It's also expected to be an asset should the city seek funding for cultural needs. But it won't be quite as large as hoped.
The application had included the Eclipse Mill — full of artists' lofts and studios — on Union Street and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. However, the council was looking at districts in terms of walkability and boundaries, said Helme and City Planner Larysa Bernstein, and determined the farther flung elements wouldn't work.
The mill and MCLA, along with the Beaver Mill and other entities will remain partners but not within the district, which will be bounded by the Hoosic River to the west, River Street, Church Street and the southern edge of the shopping area. Inside the lines are the downtown and its stores, galleries and restaurants, a half-dozen murals, Mass MoCA, the Berkshire Art Museum, Chapel for Humanity, the North Adams Museum of History and Science, and Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
Walker said this year's reapproval of the first designations provided a window on the program's success.
"Today was really the first time we had a chance to look at organizations who had been designated for five years ... all 10 came back in the program," she said. "Pittsfield made a presentation ... it was absolutely amazing to listen to the number of activities, of events, tens of thousands of visitors came in, new events that have been organized in the past five years, a lot of it was launched around the district ...
"They were telling us that the designation as a cultural district was giving them credibility for a lot of the new things they're doing, including the new boutique hotel right on the main drag ... for every community, it's going to be different but we've seen from these 10 who have been at it for five years, they see the value in it and they can measure the difference."
The council is hoping programs like this can be kept afloat in face of budget cuts. The board on Tuesday approved two budgets — one that incorporates $2 million in cuts from Gov. Charlie Baker's veto pen and another that level funds the council at $14 million, should the veto be overridden.
"Until you go through that budget line by line like our council did today and look at what that $2 million really costs, what it really takes away from the work that you are doing in your community ... you get a sense of what we buy for $2 million at the Massachusetts Cultural Council," Walker said.
Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson said the Berkshires understands what the work of the MCC means.
"It's not like frosting on the cake, it's sinew and blood and bones and muscle," he said. "Particularly in our tightknit, little community in the Berkshires where arts, education and cultural destination it helps drive is not only a very large part of the economy of our region, it's one of the largest and certainly the fastest growing ... the work the MCC does is vital to us at so many levels."
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, said he and the committee's House chairman, state Rep. Cory Atkins, signed a letter advocating for the override. With an eye on revenues, he said there was a strong possibility of an override this fall.
"I think we're positioned well and fingers crossed," he said. "I cannot emphasize enough how disappointing it was to see it vetoed."
The delegation needed ammunition to show the importance of access to the arts in education, community and job growth, Hinds said, pointing to the group of violin-wielding Pittsfield children about to the perform thanks to the MCC-supported Kids 4 Harmony program.
"We've watched it single-handedly transform our downtown and revitalize our downtown," he said. "The ripple effects we talk about are real."
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