Gloucester Cultural ‘Place Making’ Model: Shared Vision, Spirit of Collaboration

Tom Daniel, Director of the Community Development Department, will be a featured speaker at “Arts Culture & Community: A Forum on Public Art & Planning” on Thursday, June 26th, an event co-hosted by Massachusetts Cultural Council and Metropolitan Area Planning Council. The MCC submitted an article about why Gloucester has been able to successfully build collaborative environment within the arts and cultural community, one that sets the stage for expanded cultural economic activity and growth. 

By Massachusetts Cultural Council

A cultural district is a geographical area in a city or town that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. It is a walkable, compact area that is easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serves as a center of cultural and artistic activity. Districts boost economic activity and heighten visibility. In the past two years, the state has designated two cultural districts in the City of Gloucester: Rocky Neck and Harbortown. Why?

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Gloucester’s scenic beauty has drawn painters to live and work in the city since the early 19th century. Native-born Fitz Henry Lane, whose home is now a museum on the waterfront, became well known for his radiant harbor scenes. Other notable Gloucester painters include Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Cecilia Beaux, Jane Peterson, Emile Gruppe, Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper, Robert Henri, and Maurice Prendergast.  Anecdotally, several painters gave the city their paintings in lieu of property taxes, and the city boasts an extraordinary collection of artwork, much of it on view in various city buildings and the Cape Ann Museum.

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Today, more than 600 visual artists are members of the North Shore Artists Association, which is located in Smith Cove, home of the Rocky Neck Art Colony, the oldest art colony in the nation. Writers, filmmakers, sculptors, actors, musicians also call Gloucester home. For a small city, Gloucester has a highly creative streak. This translates into a place that offers residents and visitors the chance to see the work of artists living in the city now, as well as in the past. This long history also tells the story of a community that has welcomed creative people for the better part of 200 years, a creative community with an independent spirit that has an unusually good working relationship with local government and business.

Setting the stage for new economic activity takes commitment, energy, and focus. Artists and cultural organizations are central to a successful cultural district, but they cannot do this work alone. Other stakeholders – local government, business owners and entrepreneurs must be involved. Developing a shared vision and goals, working collaboratively, being flexible and responsive as opportunities arise, and trying out new ideas is fundamental to a district’s success. Passion, dreams, and hope are also essential. So why Gloucester? Well, whether you pick up a paint brush, develop the town’s budget, or brew a killer espresso, it is evident that Gloucester means business.

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