Cultural district designation sought for downtown Lynn

May 9, 2011
By Chris Stevens/The Daily Item

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) are looking to define and delineate a cultural district in downtown Lynn.

Kennedy and the EDIC will host a community meeting Tuesday to discuss a proposed state-designated Arts and Culture District. In early April, the Massachusetts Cultural Council released guidelines for the program that will establish state-designated cultural districts in Massachusetts cities and towns. The MCC created this program following a 2010 act of the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Patrick to encourage economic development and the growth of creative industries and cultural assets in Massachusetts.

EDIC Executive Director James Cowdell said part of the process of applying for the district designation is to determine what the exact footprint is. In his mind the district would stretch from City Hall, where shows are held in the Lynn Memorial Auditorium to the Central Square area, which is home to the Lynn Museum and Historical Society, Raw Arts and LynnArts with its black box theater.

“Downtown Lynn has long been the epicenter of artistic and cultural activity in our city,” he said.

But despite what he calls a vibrant cultural scene, Cowdell said he shares a concern he’s heard often expressed by other supporters in the area: that the “unique activities and events are underutilized not only by people from other parts of Lynn, but also throughout the Boston metropolitan region.”

He believes the key to unlocking the downtown’s potential as a “regional arts and culture mecca” will be found with the new designation program.

According to the MCC, “a cultural district is a specific geographical area in a city 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.”

Cowdell believes that the establishment of such a state-designated cultural district will build upon what he calls a strong foundation laid by downtown cultural groups. He said he hopes it would also expose the city’s artistic and historical assets to visitors from across the region.

While some might scoff at the idea of downtown Lynn being designated a cultural district, Cowdell notes that 250 residents have moved into the area.

“Six years ago it went through some changes,” he said. “It’s been changing, it’s not the same downtown as when I was a kid.”

Ward 5 City Councilor Brendan Crighton said naysayers need only to look at other cities with similar infrastructures that have already created cultural districts of their own. Lowell, Somerville and South Boston all have designated art districts that are thriving.

Cowdell said if the city receives the designation the EDIC has $300,000 in funding set aside for start-up loans to attract the creative types of businesses the would fit with the district.

The meeting will be held at Turbine Wine Bar, 56 Central Square, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and it is open to the public.

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