Downtown Great Barrington was officially designated a Massachusetts cultural district Tuesday.
State and local leaders gathered at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center to celebrate as Great Barrington’s downtown became the state’s 45th cultural district.
“It’s not just the built environment. It’s what’s happening and how people feel when they come and experience your cultural district," said Anita Walker, the Executive Director of the Mass Cultural Council. The state agency uses grants, initiatives, and advocacy to “promote excellence, inclusion, education, and diversity in the arts, humanities, and sciences to foster a rich cultural life for all Massachusetts residents.”
“We’re all about the economic impact that the arts and culture has, the way the communities are activated and people are brought together, about how we invest in the next generation of young people who are going to be nurturing their creative minds and great participants and citizens,” said Walker.
The Mass Cultural Council has 16 regions in the state — matching its 16 regional tourism councils. Justina Crawford will serve as the council’s program officer for Great Barrington.
State Senator Adam Hinds, of the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden district, co-chairs the joint committee on tourism, arts, and cultural development. He praised the council’s attention to the Berkshires.
“An institution, an organization has a challenge — be it with a facility or with finances — and they step up every single time either through money or support through other means, including consultants,” said Hinds.
“This is the third-largest industry in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I hope I get my numbers right, Anita, but for every dollar invested in the creative economy, we get $10 in return," said Fellow Democrat State Representative Smitty Pignatelli. "That’s one heck of an investment.”
Pignatelli, who represents the 4th Berkshire district, spent 13 years on that same committee. He praised the development of Great Barrington’s downtown, and said the cultural district designation would put the town “on the map.”
“This is the Northampton of the Berkshires," said Pignatelli. "I’ve been saying that for a number of years now. This is validation that this vision is correct.”
“At the southern end of the zone is the Saint James Church, which is now a performance space, and the northern end of the zone is the soon to be magnificently restored Clinton Church," said Ed Abrahams of the Great Barrington’s selectboard. He also sits on the Cultural District’s steering committee.
“It was a goal of our master plan — our 2013 award-winning master plan — to create this," said Abrahams. "And last March, the selectboard said this is now a priority, and then here we are.”
“Great Barrington’s culture is not just the arts in the most traditional sense of theatres like this one or museums, but also food and farmers, the work of local artists and crafts people in their studios and our shops and galleries. The beautiful landscapes and outdoor recreation, health and wellness, and the rich history of this town," said Karen Watkins, director of finance and administration at the Mahaiwe. She is one of the cultural district steering committee’s co-chairs.
“We look forward to partnering with the other Berkshire County cultural districts — Williamstown, North Adams, and Upstreet in Pittsfield — and maybe Lenox coming up,” said Watkins.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Great Barrington town planner Christopher Rembold also received praise for their involvement with the designation.