NEWBURYPORT – City officials and local cultural leaders yesterday found themselves in the unusual position of having to “prove” that this city offers cultural resources and artistic opportunity.
Many recognize Newburyport to be a vibrant center of arts, music and literature but representatives of the Massachusetts Cultural Council were in town yesterday as part of its formal procedure to consider bestowing written recognition of this community as a “cultural district.”
Cultural Council members must make a formal recommendation before the city can be so recognized and thus Mayor Donna Holaday, Chamber of Commerce President Ann Ormond and City Councilor Allison Heartquist were among about a dozen who led the state “evaluators” on a tour of the downtown cultural sites.
They visited the Firehouse Center for the Arts, the Art Association headquarters, dance and voice studios in the Tannery, outdoor music venues and numerous shops and businesses.
Local leaders talked up the town as if explaining themselves to newcomers as they endeavored to advance the cause of cultural tourism.
Those who participated said there are benefits to being formally recognized.
Meri Jenkins, program manager for the Massachusetts Cultural District Initiative, said, “If Newburyport is approved as one of the state’s cultural districts, it will be part of our initiative to spread the word about the state. This city would be profiled in promotional material to Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and many other countries.”
As to the Cultural Council question of what makes the city unique, Jack Welch, representing the drama community, said, “Newburyport as a city shaped in part by its waterfront and its long maritime history.”
Mayor Donna Holaday added, “Another dimension that makes the city special is the preservation effort that went on to save the historic downtown. Many cities took down their old buildings but this city is recognized as among the first in the country to choose restoration as part of renewal.”