This morning, members from the Massachusetts Cultural Council were set to descend upon Winchester’s downtown area for a walk-through and a meeting to determine if the town center would qualify as a cultural district.
What is a cultural district?
A cultural district is an outlined area in a city or town that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets in a walkable, compact area, easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serving as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity. When walking around the district, residents and their visitors will see all of the cultural, artistic and economic activities that are being promised.
These types of districts are possible through the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative, which was signed into law back in 2010. Cultural districts are supported by state and local agencies. They benefit residents by promoting art, allowing retail and dining businesses to expand their customer base thereby providing more job opportunities, establishing a center for tourists, and helping support the development of local culture.
Joyce Westner, a member of the town’s own cultural council, said this week that the group was scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, June 12th, at the Griffin Museum for a 9:30 a.m. meeting. After, they plan on walking from Shore Road to Winchester Common, Studio on the Common, Waterfield Road, Thompson Street, the Center Falls Dam (behind the library), Book Ends, the Jenks Center, Town Hall, the Telephone Exchange Artist Lofts, and finally the Winchester Public Library.
At noon, the Mass. Cultural Council was scheduled to hold a meeting with various stakeholders and town government officials at the library including Town Manager Lisa Wong, Senator Jason Lewis, Ryan McGeown-Conron (Representative Michael Day’s legislative aide), possibly a member of the Select Board, Planning Board Chair Heather von Mering, Mary McKenna who, along with Westner, has spearheaded the initiative, First Congregation Church pastor Rev. Will Burhans, Wright-Locke Farm Events Director Amy Rindskopf, Library Director Ann Wirtanen, and Griffin Museum Director Paula Tognarelli, among others.
From the state, Cultural Districts Program Manager Luis Cotto and Mass. Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker were expected to attend.
When asked if the Mass. Cultural Council representatives would be looking for anything specific on their walkthrough, Westner said she asked Cotto and was told the entire thing is “pro forma. In other words, would they see something that would make them say, ‘This isn’t a good candidate for a district?’”
She suggested the town has what it takes to get approval. The council plans to make that decision at its August meeting.
As McKenna noted when she and Westner first brought this to the Select Board’s attention last spring, “By defining this cultural district, we will encourage residents to spend time downtown, combining visits to cultural activities with an evening of dining out, an afternoon of shopping at local establishments, or bringing their out-of-town guests on a pleasant walk around the district.”
The district could inspire residents to participate in annual events like “Art in the Park” and “Art in August.” It could also become the wellspring of community activities in town.
So far, the Select Board has approved the formation of a Cultural District partnership, and if the state also approves, it will make it official. The board also approved and signed a Mass. Cultural Council resolution. McKenna said last year the state has 43 cultural districts including in nearby Arlington and Belmont.
The resolution that the board approved and signed contains five articles that state the town must:
1. Endorse the submission of the application and agree to foster the development of a cultural district.
2. Endorse the state-sponsored cultural district goals: attracting artists and cultural experiences, encouraging business and job development, establishing tourist destinations, preserving and reusing historic buildings, enhancing property values, and fostering local cultural development.
3. Appoint a town official to represent the town within the district partnership of said cultural district.
4. Encourage all who own property or businesses within said cultural district to involve themselves and participate in the full development of the cultural district.
5. Direct town agencies to identify programs and services that could support and enhance the development of the cultural district and ensure that those programs and services are accessible to the cultural district.
The partnership, meanwhile, is a group of volunteer representatives from the community charged with managing the district. Arlington’s partnership includes the Director of Libraries, Town Planner, Chamber of Commerce director, Arlington Center for the Arts director, Cyrus E. Dallin Museum director and more. McKenna said they meet quarterly and have a core of five members which meets every other month.
Winchester’s members would include Town Planner Brian Szekely, Ann Storer and Erich Beechwood from the Conservation Commission, David Storeygard from the Design Review Committee, Jack LeManager from the Winchester Historical Commission, Westner from the Winchester Artist Network, Tognarelli from the Griffin Museum, Karen Branley and Mary Ann O’Callaghan from the Arthur Griffin Foundation, Phillip Beltz and Helen Babcock from the Jenks Center, Sandy Thompson from the Multicultural Network, Gloria Legvold representing the town common, Nancy Shrock from the Winchester Historical Society, Margo Attaya from the Farmers Market, attorney, writer and photographer Elaine Tassinari, Gail Ockerbloom from Studio on the Common, Judy Manzo from Book Ends, Wright-Locke Farm Events Director Rindskopf, public schools Art Program Director Jennifer Levatino, Library Director Wirtanen, Brian Milauskas from Kidstock, Laurie Russell and Sara Schwindt from the Winchester Community Music School, Rev. Burhans from the First Congregational Church, and Carolyn Starratt representing Sustainable Winchester.
If the town receives approval, it may be eligible for grant money; however, Westner noted although the council says they offer grants, the council website (www.massculturalcouncil.org) is vague. It states: “The Cultural Districts Initiative does not provide grants on a regular basis. The Council has identified other state agencies whose programs may benefit your cultural district.”
She also noted that with approval, Winchester becomes a cultural center for visitors who can plan to dine, walk around and see a performance.
When first discussed, McKenna said the council would work with local businesses. This week, Westner said they have “enthusiastic” buy-in from Manzo at Book Ends and Ockerbloom from Studio on the Common. She said she also spoke to the President of the Chamber of Commerce who said they were “very supportive.”
“But we didn’t invite specific restaurant owners to participate,” she added, “for fear of leaving any of them out. Once it’s a district we’ll have more ideas.”
Westner also pointed out how Winchester Community Music School director Laurie Russell was scheduled to attend this morning and they partner with The Fuller Cup for open mic nights during the summer.
“And of course all the businesses who participate in Art in August will be supportive in some fashion or another,” she concluded.
As the town hasn’t yet received state approval, although all signs point to getting it, some things are still kind of influx it would seem.