Newburyport’s New Cultural District



Photo by Mark Corke

In November, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) designated downtown Newburyport as the 19th cultural district in the state and the fifth on the North Shore. Working to achieve the new designation brought together a wide variety of community organizations, which may result in a cohesive marketing plan that has been lacking, says Lois Honegger, Executive Aide to the Mayor and administrator for Arts, Tourism, and Cultural Affairs.

“I’ve always believed the city could promote itself in a better way,” says Honegger, who was instrumental in creating the new district. “We are now working to umbrella [our] many activities and promote [them] as one unit.”

The district designation will be a boon to the city and its cultural offerings, says Honegger, who notes that cultural tourists are particularly desirable, as they stay three days longer and spend more money on average than other types of tourists.

The Cultural Districts Initiative, overseen by the MCC, grew out of an economic stimulus bill passed by the legislature in 2010. It is designed to recognize walkable areas with a high concentration of cultural amenities, like art galleries, museums, and live-performance venues. As such, the designation seems almost tailor-made for Newburyport, notes MCC’s executive director, Anita Walker. “When the legislature created the Cultural Districts Initiative, I suspect it had a community like Newburyport in mind,” she says. “The downtown provides all the experiences you want in a New England port city—beautiful historic architecture, shopping and galleries, restaurants, and lots of arts activities for children and adults.”

The official cultural district travels from city hall down Green Street to Water Street, then across to the Tannery Marketplace, up Federal Street, across Liberty Street to State Street, where it connects back with Water Street. It takes about 30 minutes to walk without stops, and encompasses a number of sites, from the Firehouse Center for the Arts to the Newburyport Art Association. But Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is quick to point out that the designation isn’t meant to exclude cultural offerings outside the delineated district.

“There’s no force field that keeps you from leaving the district,” Ormond jokes, adding that offerings like the Cushing House Museum and Garden, the Rail Trail, which is lined with outdoor art installations, and Maudslay State Park, where Theater in the Open performs, will also be included in promotional materials.

The city expects to have a map with a cultural district walking tour available by Memorial Day, and a launch party for the new cultural district, including a Mardi Gras-style parade and walking tour, is scheduled for May 3. For more information, go to cityofnewburyport.com.

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