Massachusetts Communities Seek “Cultural” Tag

Since Massachusetts began issuing the official designation of “cultural district” to select cities and towns last year, the distinction has mainly gone to communities in the eastern part of the state. But communities in western Massachusetts are looking toward that designation to get on “the map” of the statewide creative economy. 

The Berkshire town of Becket is home to the internationally known dance festival Jacob’s Pillow, but its actual downtown village is eight miles beyond, in the direction of the hill towns of Chester and Huntington. 

“When you’re talking about going to the village of Becket, you have to be pretty much planning to go there.” 

So says Paul Campbell of the Becket Arts Center, which features art shows and lectures and is  teaming up with the town’s library and Mullen House Education Center to apply for official designation as a cultural district, joining the fourteen such districts currently declared in the state by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. 

Though Pittsfield was among the first, Shelburne Falls is the only western Massachusetts municipality to join it.

The title doesn’t come with any grant money, but the districts are promoted in state tourism materials. Campbell and Burns Maxey, of an arts coalition in Easthampton which is applying for cultural district status, say they hope the designation will put their communities near the front of the line for future funding opportunities. 

Regardless of the outcome, they say, the process has caused arts groups and other creative economy actors in their respective communities to find each other and develop new partnerships. 

“People have been coming out of the woodwork that we didn’t know were here, that we’re connecting with.”

That’s Maxey.  Helena Fruscio, the state’s first director of creative industries, says that’s no surprise, particularly among small businesses.

“This isn’t just in one place, this is all over Massachusetts. So once you start to dig into the creative industries, they do start to come out of the hills—and you’d be surprised how many people are making a living off of their creative talents.”

Becket has not yet submitted its application; Maxey says Easthampton is expecting a site visit from the Mass Cultural council this month.