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Arlington receives state approval for cultural district

Town's new distinction recognized

Cultural district map

UPDATED, Sept. 30: A celebration of the cultural-district designation was held Friday, Sept. 15, in the main reading room of the Robbins Library.

The district extends 1.3 miles from Milton Street in East Arlington to Mill Street in Arlington Center. A Sept. 5 town news release calls the area "a lively, bustling area boasting dozens of restaurants, cafes, unique retail shops and two independent theaters, which keep this area busy at all hours of the day.

"The Cultural District supports year-round creative arts and entertainment activities, such as Porchfest, Romancing the Square, Feast of the East, Arlington Alive Arts Festival, Arlington Town Day and so many more. Bound together by both Mass. Ave. and the Minuteman Bikeway, the Arlington Cultural District showcases the town's natural beauty, history and contemporary arts and culture."

The state has approved Arlington's application to have its own cultural district, a designation that supporters hope will strengthen the town's artistic community.

Approval means the town joins 42 such districts under the Massachusetts Cultural Council, established under a 2010 state law.

To see the map at left from the Planning Department full size, click here or on the map >> (It can load slowly; be patient)

"With a cultural district designation, Arlington joins a prestigious list of Massachusetts towns and cities that are realizing district benefits, such as a greater ability to attract artists and cultural enterprise and a stronger partnership between the business community and the nonprofit and civic sectors," Ali Carter, town economic-development coordinator, wrote Wednesday, Aug. 30. North Adams also had its distriuct approved Aug. 29.

$5,000 award included

"Cultural district designation brings the many diverse working groups and organizations together to work towards achieving the goals and strategies outlined in the recently adopted Arlington Arts and Culture Action Plan. The town will also receive a $5,000 award along with the designation."

See a draft of the action plan, dated July 11, 2017, here >>  See a list of districts here >>

The cultural district extends from the Center to Capitol Square, as indicated on the accompanying map. The state Cultural Council Board gave Arlington the go-ahead at its Tuesday, Aug. 29, board meeting at Mass MoCA in North Adams, confirmed Jenny Raitt, director of planning. 

Photos from Mass MoCA on Aug. 29

Selectman Joseph Curro Jr. traveled to North Adams with Raitt, Libraries Director Andrea Nicolay and Beth Locke of the Chamber of Commerce to meet with the Cultural Council as it considered the application.

Meri Jenkins, manager of cultural-district program, introduced the town's application to the council members, and Curro delivered some brief remarks in support of the town bid.

He described some of the cultural amenities in the proposed district -- including historical amenities, public art and businesses -- and explained that "it sits on the crossroads of the Minuteman Bikeway and the Battle Road Scenic Byway."

He also thanked the council for its support of the local Cultural Council and of the Cultural Facilities Grant that is assisting the Arlington Center for the Arts in its move to the Senior Center/Central School.

Curro told YourArlington that the town delegation was also present for the first round of cultural-district renewals, which included a brief presentation by a Pittsfield official on that city's cultural district, one of Massachusetts' first.

State budget 'not so cheery'

In addition, they heard the state council's budget discussion, which he said "was not so cheery. If it is not overridden, the governor's veto of MCC funds could mean the elimination of programs of direct financial support to cultural districts around the state, as well as a relatively new mini-grant program supporting festivals.

"Bad news notwithstanding, I am very excited about this designation.

"It validates all of the hard work that so many people in Arlington have done to raise our profile as a creative community, which values daring new initiatives and treasures its many historical assets. The district -- through its managing partnership -- provides a framework for cooperation between our local government, nonprofit sector and business community.

"Perhaps most importantly, it literally puts Arlington on the map, assisting us with our efforts to promote the town to visitors and curious local residents alike and to spur vibrancy and economic development."

Curro said an official celebration will be held. The events is set for Sept. 15.

The key step follows follows years of effort, which began with an initial Arlington Alive! meeting in 2012, and moved ahead in earnest with a coordinating committee in 2014, following by two meetings aimed at public this year.

Asked whether this designation improves the town's chances for more funding through the MCC and whether the $5,000 award is the limit of what the town will get, Carter responded:

Partnership aims to aid planning capacity

"The designation does not necessarily make us more likely to get MCC grants. However, the newly formed Cultural District Managing Partnership will work collaboratively on arts and culture events in the district. The formation of the partnership will increase the capacity for planning arts and culture events, and they could apply for funding from the Mass. Cultural Council to support an event or initiative within the Arlington Cultural District.

"The $5,000 award is the limit of what we will receive as part of the designation."

Responses from those involved after YourArlington learned about the decision Aug. 29 were enthusiastic.

Arch cites ACAC role, notes hopes  

Adria Arch on Thursday, Aug. 31, provided considerable background about the role of the Commission on Arts and Culture (ACAC), the group she cochairs:

"The decision of ACAC to apply for the [cultural-district] designation grew out of the need, as we saw it, for better support of the arts-and-culture organizations that already exist in Arlington as well as the newer Arlington Public Art.

"We saw our groups duplicating efforts in fund-raising and publicizing their events. And we saw a need to bring everyone to the table to leverage our best ideas and funding sources.

"Further, there are several grant opportunities available to towns and cities that require the governmental entities to sign off as a supportive agency. Now with the [cultural-district] designation, we will be able to apply for many more grants."

She wrote that ACAC members learned about the MCC's cultural-district program in 2013, "and we immediately saw it as the way to get all of our groups to work together and also for the town to contribute some resources to these serious and professional groups -- because in order to get the designation, a town or city must agree to be behind the efforts and to support it."

Barbara Costa and Stephanie Marlin Curiel, as cochairs of ACAC until last January, she wrote, spent large amounts of time working to help pull together the managing partnership, a requirement for the application.

"This group is critical to the success of the application, and its functioning will be critical to the success of the [cultural district] moving forward."

As those involved get the district up and running, she wrote, "look for better coordination of publicity, more consistent programming and continued Innovative arts-and-culture offerings that will benefit the entire town, not only the specific district designated area.

"My personal hope is that the town will hire an arts-and-culture liaison whose job will be to apply for grants and to oversee excellent arts-and-culture programming.

"Already, the Planning Department has taken on a real leadership role. But quality programming takes money and expertise, and can't be relegated to volunteers constantly. Another need is for a dedicated income stream that can support our gems of arts and culture in town."

Further ACAC comment

Marlin-Curiel wrote Aug. 31: "The cultural-district designation was not only something we felt Arlington deserved, but would help the town and residents support arts and culture as a valued resource for a thriving and economically sustainable community.

"Public meetings confirmed the interest and aspirations of Arlington residents. Working toward the designation gave us the chance to form, and formalize, partnerships between the town, business districts and cultural organizations so that we can become greater than the sum of our parts.

"These are the kind of partnerships that granting organizations look for. Cultural districts also help to attract creative businesses and more artists, which just makes life more fun."

Other members involved respond 

Bob Bowes, the Chamber of Commerce leader who manages an town real-state company, wrote: "That is excellent news. As you may know, in addition to the Arlington Chamber, I also serve on the A-TED Committee and for some time this approval has been very high on both our wish lists."

A-TED stands for Arlington Committee on Tourism and Economic Development.

"Arlington has so many cultural opportunities for all residents, near and far and this designation is a confirmation that the Mass. Cultural Council has recognized the importance of our diversity and the quality of our many cultural opportunities.

"It is the hope of a number of Arlington organizations that this approval is the first step in recognizing and creating a much larger Cultural District that will include the area between East Arlington and Arlington Heights.

"We should not forget that this approval is the result of a great deal of work by many Arlington groups and they should be applauded for a very successful campaign."

Cultural Council enthused

Lisbet Taylor, cochair, Arlington Cultural Council wrote: "MCC's approval for a cultural district in Arlington is the result of much hard work on the part of Arlington's cultural institutions, the Town of Arlington and consultant Cecily Miller, point-person-par-excellence for arts and culture and the creative economy.

"Along with the adoption of the Arlington Cultural Plan and Vision 2020, it means that ACC will now be able to work closely with the other 'alphabet soup' cultural organizations (i.e. ACA, APA, ACAC) to create an umbrella organization with clout. We will be able to pool resources, staff and volunteers to be a more efficient, effective and driving force for history, arts and culture. By driving the cultural economy and representing the communal soul of Arlington, this will improve Arlington's status as a destination for families, artists and a revitalized citizenry."

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine was away, but he wrote: "This designation is really the culmination of years of work and dedication on the part of Arlington's arts and cultural community. Now, we'll be able to put a title on what we've all known locally for years, that Arlington is a culturally rich destination with much to offer both residents and visitors alike."

A variety of stakeholders have been asked to comment. These include Angela Olszewski of A-TED, Judy Weinberg of the AFD Theatre and Nicolay.

Aug. 30, 2017: Full town announcement
Draft action plan, July 11, 2017
April 5, 2016: Arlington's culture draws a map: Can it draw dollars?

This news summary was published Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, the first media outlet to do so. It was updated Sept. 6, to change the location of the celebration, and Sept. 30, to add an ACMi video.

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