Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Downtown Pittsfield to apply for Official Cultural District Designation

The city of Pittsfield plans to be one of the first municipalities in the Commonwealth to apply for the newly authorized state Cultural District designation.

A cultural district, according to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, is a specific 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, artistic and economic activity.  Passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 2010, the statute that created cultural districts has specific goals. They are to attract artists and cultural enterprises; encourage business and job development; establish the district as a tourist destination; preserve and reuse historic buildings; enhance property values; and foster local cultural development.

“Downtown Pittsfield, with Barrington Stage’s two theatres, the Colonial Theatre, the Berkshire Athenaeum, the Berkshire Museum, the Berkshire Music School, the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, Storefront Artist Project, NEW Stage Performing Arts Center, Bisque, Beads and Beyond, the Alchemy Initiative, the Beacon Cinema, three dance studios, the Artscape public art program, and over fifty working artist studios, is truly the cultural center of the Berkshires and perfectly positioned to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ newly created Cultural Districts Initiative,” noted Pittsfield Cultural Development Director Megan Whilden.

She added, “3rd.Thursdays, the Pittsfield Ethnic Fair, the Polish Family Picnic, the Pittsfield Art Show, the WordXWord Festival, the Festival of Gathering Roots, the Grecian Festival, the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade, the Handmade Holiday Festival, the Halloween Parade and other events also add to the year round liveliness of downtown Pittsfield, along with the growing live music scene, with local and regional performers regularly featured at Brulee’s, Flavours Malaysian Restaurant, Mission Bar & Tapas, and Spice Dragon.”

A public meeting was held on Wednesday, June 22 and attended by over two dozen members of the community, including people from the education, business and cultural sectors. Meri Jenkins, the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s manager of the Cultural District Initiative, provided an overview of the requirements and process for applying and answered questions. Attendees were very supportive of the application and the Massachusetts Cultural Council has indicated that downtown Pittsfield has excellent prospects for being approved. Pittsfield is also eligible to establish Cultural Districts in other parts of the city in the future.

The proposed Downtown Pittsfield Cultural District’s borders would mirror those of the city’s existing Downtown Arts Overlay District, which was approved by the Pittsfield City Council in 2006, and later that year won a statewide Smart Growth Award. A copy of the map can be found online at www.culturalpittsfield.com and copies are available at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts between 9qm and 5pm Monday through Friday.

The next step in the application process is a City Council resolution in support of applying for the Cultural District designation, which will go before the Pittsfield City Council at their July 12 City Council meeting. A public hearing will be also be held as part of the July 12 Pittsfield City Council meeting, scheduled for 7:30pm. Public comments and questions are also welcomed via email at mwhilden@Pittsfieldch.com, or phone at 413-499-9348. for more information on the Cultural Districts Initiative, please visit the website of the Massachusetts Cultural Council at www.massculturalcouncil.org.