GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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February 19, 2013

State panel eyeing second city 'cultural district'

A visit by state cultural council officials this week will help determine whether much of downtown Gloucester will earn a designation as a state-recognized cultural district. And if it does, it will be the second such designation for the city, and one of four Cape Ann sites to earn be granted that designation among just 15 in the state.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Cultural Council are expected to arrive Thursday to complete their review of the Downtown Gloucester Cultural District application, said Robert Whitmarsh, a member of the Downtown Development Commission and city Historical Commission whose also been part of the committee spearheading the cultural district bid.

If the application is approved, it would mean that Gloucester’s downtown district would join the Rocky Neck Cultural District and Downtown Rockport Cultural District – both recognized among the first wave of five districts designated in early 2012. The third current Cape Ann district is the Essex River Cultural District, which encompasses much of downtown Essex and was approved last fall amid the latest wave of designations, bringing the total to its current 14.

Meri Jenkins, program manager of the state cultural commission, affirmed “how significant it is that Gloucester will be the first city in the state — if not the country — to have two districts.”

“When you unleash the arts,” says Jenkins, “everyone will want to be there.”

While recognition as a cultural district does not carry any assured arts or other inherent state funding, the designation can open the door to federal and to private grants, and is widely seen as an effective tool for marketing city or town as a cultural focal point, providing tourism promotion and recognizing the arts and cultural destinations as a means of economic development.

In the case of the proposed downtown Gloucester district, the area would encompass the civic center from City Hall to the Cape Ann Museum on Pleasant Street; Middle Street to Washington Street, Main Street from Washington Street to Spring Street, Rogers Street — including the likes of the historic Unitarian Universalist Church, the restored City Hall, Cape Ann Museum, the Sawyer Free Library, Cape Ann Community Cinema, and Maritime Gloucester. Also, uniting much of the district is the city’s new HarborWalk, including Harbor Loop.

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