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November 14, 2012

Council OKs cultural district bid

Gloucester is pursuing what would be its second cultural district — this time for the city’s downtown.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a plan for downtown cultural district to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which grants designations for such districts around the state. City councilors said the district brings all downtown cultural institutions from Maritime Gloucester to the Cape Ann museum under one umbrella.

Earlier this year, the state designated Gloucester’s Rocky Neck and downtown Rockport among the state’s first five recognized cultural districts, then approved a similar designation for an Essex River Cultural District while bringing the total statewide to 12.

While the cultural districts do not come with any assured marketing or other dollars attached, the state designation would mean the downtown district would also be added to the state Cultural Council’s website, identifying areas rich in culture for visitors and state residents alike. Officials are also hopeful that the designation can provide documentation for pursuing federal arts-related grants or other funding.

“We are so pleased,” said Judith Hoglander, chairwoman of the city’s Committee for the Arts and head of the committee that pushed for the Downtown Cultural District.

Hoglander said the city’s downtown has a vibrant mix of cultural venues, from waterfront businesses to the Sawyer Free Library. She said she started working on a downtown district while the cultural district initiative was still in debate in the state Legislature.

“I was fascinated by the possibility of a cultural district and how it could help Gloucester,” Hoglander said. “(Downtown) has it all and it’s very unique. We felt it would be ideal for a cultural district.”

Bringing it together wasn’t easy, Hoglander said. While Rocky Neck, she conceded, is a clearly defined area for a cultural district, downtown isn’t. The proposed district stretches roughly from Middle Street down to Harbor loop and covers the Harborwalk, City Hall, Maritime Gloucester, Cape Ann Museum and other venues.

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