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February 20, 2013

Editorial: Downtown district deserves cultural nod

A group from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, including innovative Executive Director Anita Walker, is slated to visit Gloucester Thursday, starting at City Hall and then touring much of the city’s downtown before a meeting at Fred Bodin’s Gallery with members of the local Downtown Gloucester Cultural District Committee.

But if you come upon the MCC representatives and want to say hello, don’t just welcome them to Gloucester; welcome them to the heart of what should be Massachusetts’ next formally designated state cultural district, the second in the city and the fourth on Cape Ann among what would then still be just 15 in the state.

As proposed, the Downtown Gloucester Cultural District epitomizes what an ideal cultural district should be.

It is rich with historic homes, like the Sargent House, with churches and other buildings with unique histories — like the Unitarian Universalist Church that essentially pioneered that movement — it’s awash in historic buildings like Gloucester’s restored City Hall, the Cape Ann Museum, Sawyer Free Library, and boasts a number of contemporary cultural halls and presentations from the Cape Ann Cinema through and including the city’s new Harborwalk. That waterfront walkway, of course, not only takes visitors along the Gloucester’s harborside, but chronicles Gloucester’s history and heritage through a series of hi-tech “story moment” stopping points that bring the likes of Clarence Birdseye and legendary fisherman Howard Blackburn to life at the touch of an iPhone.

In short, the tourism and other economic reach of Gloucester’s cultural attractions seem to ideally represent the kind of cultural economy initiatives that Walker has championed since she came to Massachusetts five years ago. And adding a Downtown Gloucester Cultural District to those already in place recognizing Rocky Neck, central Essex and downtown Rockport, is an ideal fit as this statewide promotion project moves forward.

Let’s hope our cultural council visitors recognize that as well.

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