By Gail McCarthy
---- — The city of Gloucester is the first community in the state to have two designated cultural districts, with a newly-granted approval of a Gloucester Harbortown Cultural District by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
The state panel’s approval of the new “Harbortown” district — initially sought as a Gloucester Downtown Cultural District — also increases the number of cultural districts on Cape Ann to four, with the new designation joining Gloucester’s Rocky Neck and Rockport – two of the state’s first five named last spring — and the Essex River Cultural District that gained state approval last October.
All of the cultural districts — which now number 15 in all — are part of the state’s efforts to help communities cultivate their creative economies.
A delegation representing the committee that has spearheaded the push for the new district traveled to Springfield for last Friday’s cultural council vote, including the city’s chief administrative officer, James Duggan, steering committee co-Chairs Judith Hoglander and Bob Whitmarsh, and committee members Lise Breen and Henry Allen.
The district — which despite the name change, includes all the committee was seeking, runs from St. Peter’s Square along the city’s waterfront along the new HarborWalk to the Harbor Loop area, home to Maritime Gloucester. It also includes the Rose Baker senior center, and both the east end and west end of Main Street.
The district also includes the Cape Ann Museum, City Hall, which is home to WPA murals, the Sawyer Free Library, and Middle Street, which is home to historic churches and Temple Ahavat Achim. The district line then extends down to Legion Square and the Legion building near the Joan of Arc statue, looping back to St. Peter’s Park.
“We are just thrilled and so pleased that we are the first city to have two cultural districts,” said Hoglander. “It was such a relief to get this stage over. We’ve been working so long on this. It is a big and complex district.”
The district spotlights the heart of the downtown area and the waterfront, comprising the historic, civic, business, harbor and fishing realms of the nation’s oldest seaport.
This is just one step in the evolution of the district. The steering committee will work to create a logo and mapping for the district as well as cultivate partners. While state cultural districts do not carry any earmarked funding, they are showcased on the cultural council’s webnsite as tourism destinations, and officials have said the designations could carry credibility if or when organizations within them are seeking federal or private grant dollars.
”The city will be the lead partner for the first two years but the partners have already demonstrated an eagerness to participate, and this will grow,” said Hoglander.
”What makes this district so interesting is that it is so diverse and packed with culture,” said Whitmarsh, who said he supported the state-recommended district name change because it better connects the city and its waterfront.
”The Gloucester downtown is a very precious place and it’s a very diverse community,” he said. “Gloucester is a community of inclusion, not exclusion. That is what defines Gloucester throughout its history. We embrace others. We don’t want to focus on our differences. We want to celebrate that diversity.”
Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, told the Gloucester delegation that she was thrilled with the designation.
“When I first looked at the application, I thought it was two cultural districts, but learned that the new cultural district represents Gloucester’s history that brought together the activity of the harbor, artists, and businesses throughout the district,” Walker said in a prepared statement.
Whitmarsh said he was pleased that the Gloucester Harbor Cultural District was approved without cutting its size.
This designation is the culmination of almost two years of work by the steering committee, which also consists of the following volunteers representing various interests in the city: Lise Breen, Sargent House; Catherine Ryan, Harbor Walk Committee; David Rhinelander, Gloucester Historic Commission; Maggie Rosa, Education Foundation and City Hall Restoration Committee; Henry Allen, North Shore Fokelore Theatre Co.; Anne Robinson, SeARTS; Ronda Faloon, Cape Ann Museum.
“This has truly been a group effort, bringing strong and talented people together for the purpose of making the Gloucester downtown and harbor area a better place for everyone,” said Hoglander. “But the work is just beginning.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.