When organizers of the Rocky Neck and downtown Rockport cultural districts first gained their designations from the Massachusetts Cultural Council a little over a year ago, some naysayers questioned whether the recognitions were really worthwhile because, while they would receive a potential boost through online tourism promotion, there was no state money directly attached.
And some of those same questions surfaced over the recognition of the Essex River Cultural District last fall, and the new Gloucester Harborfront Cultural District approved in the third wave of state designations earlier this year.
So, are cultural districts worth the work it takes to gain the designations? Finally, we have a clear answer, and it is a resounding “yes.”
Gloucester’s Rocky Neck Cultural District — which, with Rockport’s, was one of the first five designated across the state — has landed a grant of $154,006 from the state’s Cultural Facilities Fund, with the money to go toward the Rocky Neck Art Colony’s purchase of the 1877 church building on Wonson Street that has opened as the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, a hub of the local arts community. And the grant is a significant boost to an important project as Gloucester continues to grow its creative economy — which recognizes the arts as a tourism and otherwise economic development tool. The further development of the building, whose main hall today serves as a gallery, a small concert and lecture hall and a function room, gives added stability and credibility to the working art colony itself.
True, the grant — one of several ranging between $7,000 and $250,000 in a total of $5.2 million in gifts announced by Gov. Deval Patrick’s office last week — is not tied specifically to the cultural districts. And it’s important to note that not all of the recipients have cultural district designations; the state still has only 15 such recognized districts, including the four on Cape Ann.
But Karen Ristuben, the Rocky Neck Art Colony president, said she believes the cultural designation provided needed credibility for the grant request — and she’s right.
While posting the names and information regarding the cultural districts on its website, the Mass. Cultural Council has indeed opened new doors for these arts organizations to gain the kind of recognition they need.
But the Rocky Neck Colony grant is perhaps the most tangible sign to date that these designations can indeed provide the added credibility these organizations need to leverage the kind of available state, federal and corporate arts funding that can ensure their futures.
That’s precisely the kind of boost that the Rocky Neck Arts Colony and other arts organizations need — and deserve.