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Fenway may get boost as an official state cultural district

Posted by Roy Greene  May 4, 2011 10:00 AM

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(Evan Richman/Globe Staff)


Art student Mary Churchil did a pencil sketch of Mayor Thomas Menino during a dedication ceremony outside the Museum of Fine Arts in 1998 renaming Huntington Ave. the "Avenue of the Arts.''

The Fenway area has boasted the “Fenway Cultural District” since 1998, when Mayor Thomas Menino proclaimed Huntington Avenue the “Avenue of the Arts” and worked to foster arts and culture in the area.

Now, Fenway may have the opportunity to become a state-recognized cultural district, which could increase its ability to attract more arts and cultural organizations.

Last June, the Massachusetts legislature voted to authorize the Commonwealth to designate official cultural districts in Boston, as a part of an economic development bill. Earlier this year, Councillor Ayanna Pressley called for a hearing to discuss the benefits of establishing cultural districts in the city.

The hearing served as an opportunity to raise awareness about the initiative, which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The council is a state agency charged with supporting the arts, humanities, and sciences through grants, advocacy, and public policies and programs.

“This is an initiative that is government-endorsed, but community-driven,” said Pressley, vice chairwoman of the Arts, Film, Humanities and Tourism Committee.

Among the organizations represented at the hearing was the Fenway Alliance, a group of arts and culture institutions centered in the Fenway area.

“Arts and culture would be the economic driver for that district,” Pressley said. “The only criteria is a sort of rolling admission.”

First, residents of a neighborhood must work together to identify it as an appropriate area for a cultural district: authentic, dense, and walk-able. Then, community members must submit a proposal to local elected officials. After holding a public hearing to get a neighborhood consensus, the neighborhood may then submit an application to become a state-recognized cultural district.

Once a district has been designated, “We will then work with the state to develop and create incentives to drive innovative businesses, and businesses fitting that demographic, to set up shop in those cultural districts,” Pressley said. “We'll then work with the office of travel and tourism” on developing branding, logos and marketing programs.

Presently, there is no money directly attached to the district program. But the hope is that eventually the initiative will be accompanied by financial incentives such as tax breaks, said Greg Liakos, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

“We're hoping this will provide an opportunity for communities to really focus their efforts and resources around their particular cultural assets, and be able to more strategically employ them to meet community goals,” Liakos said The goals may range from economic development to job revitalization to raising civic awareness.

Kelly Brilliant, director of the Fenway Alliance, said the district designation would provide an added boost to Fenway’s growing reputation as a center for arts and culture.

“One of the things I've always encouraged is to think more broadly about what a cultural district can do,” said Brilliant. “It goes beyond tourism. It's also about making it a healthier community for people to live and work.”

“I believe this stands to generate revenue for the city of Boston and highlight that arts and culture goes beyond the theater district,” said Pressley.

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Anna Westendorf, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (l.chedekel@neu.edu), as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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