Bay State Receives Arts Grant For Gateway Cities

By Cristina Quinn

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Sept. 15, 2011

BOSTON — Massachusetts cities that don't always get as much attention or investment as Boston are part of a new economic revitalization effort — with the arts at its core.

Boston-based public policy institute MassInc has received a $125,000 grant to explore arts-based growth strategies for Massachusetts' so-called "gateway cities," like Lawrence, Fall River and Springfield.

A map shows Massachusetts' "gateway cities" outside of the Boston Area. (Brookings Institution)

John Schneider is the Executive Vice-President of MassInc. He says bringing the arts into these cities can improve the quality of life in their communities.

"The work that we're doing through this project to really promote the role that arts and culture can have in economic development might help spark some of that that new, creative energy that is needed to think through, 'How can this place be better?' 'How can we grow our economy, how can we rebrand our city? And sort of change the path that we've been on?'" Schneider said.

He cites Lowell and Pittsfield as examples of how cultural events can produce economic activity, such as the Lowell Folk Festival, and Pittsfield's vibrant theatre community.

Pittsfield Mayor Jim Ruberto says arts and culture has helped the city grow over the past several years..

"From an economic standpoint, culture helps create a number of small business opportunities, whether they're retail stores, or whether they're restaurants, and other shops providing services to support its major venues. At the same time, the whole notion of cultural development helps bring a better level of enlightenment to the community," Ruberto said.

Schneider said MassInc will use the grant money for three things, including a public opinion poll to assess the perception of art and its significance in their communities; a summit of civic leaders, entrepreneurs and artists; and ongoing research about the true economic impact artistic efforts have on a community.

"All these cities have these assets that we need to tap into, promote, encourage and nurture. They can generate a different kind of future. We don't even know what that might look like, but we know that in an economy that increasingly puts a premium on creativity and innovation, the arts and cultural institutions of a community are so important to sparking that and promoting that within the city," Schneider said.

Both John Schneider and Mayor Ruberto emphasize that these projects are most successful when the residents are deeply involved and engaged in the process of incorporating the arts into their community.

"Through this kind of programming, people begin to think differently about these communities, and hopefully think more positively. That's another goal that we have, that people begin to see the Gateway Cities as places of opportunities, places that can be fun, places where there are creative things happening, places where people are proud of their cultural heritage," Schneider said.

Although changing public perception of the Gateway Cities — in and outside of the communities will take time, MassInc is confident that the arts is critical to revitalizing the economies of these cities. They hope that Beacon Hill will take notice and share the enthusiasm.

Massachusetts cities that don't always get as much attention or investment as Boston are part of a new economic revitalization effort -- with the arts at its core.



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