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Roxbury wins Boston’s third cultural district designation

Status puts attention on arts, may boost economy

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Roxbury wins Boston’s third cultural district designation
A mural by Napoleon Jones Henderson in the lobby of the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building.

Roxbury artists and local businesses are slated for a boost, as a section of the neighborhood received designation as a state cultural district. The Massachusetts Cultural Council Board of Directors announcement last week officially realized a goal decades in the making, and established a third cultural district in Boston, which currently is known as “The Roxbury Cultural District.”

Dudley Square is at the heart of the newly-designated Roxbury Cultural District.

On the web

For more information about Roxbury Cultural District meetings, visit:

The cultural district status recognizes a walkable section of Roxbury as a hub of art and cultural assets. This designation is expected to highlight local offerings and history, put forth a new neighborhood narrative and attract visitors, generating more economic activity and social connectivity across the city.

An early vision of a cultural district was outlined in the 1987 Roxbury Heritage State Park Master Plan. In 2011 and 2013, the Common Thread Coalition, Roxbury Cultural Network and other stakeholders explored the idea further, and in recent years energy built further: In 2015 Haley House, Madison Park Development Corporation and The American City Coalition partnered to spearhead efforts to prepare an application for state designation, which was submitted in November 2016.

“This is about bringing together arts and culture and a creative economy for economic development,” Charlotte Rice, senior associate of partnerships and development, of The American Cities Coalition, said in a Banner phone interview.

Several Roxbury Heritage State Park Master plan advisory members were actively involved, including Rep. Byron Rushing and Barry Gaither, director of the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists. Support came as well from local officials, including City Councilors Ayanna Pressley, Tito Jackson, Michelle Wu, and Annissa Essaibi-George and members of the city’s arts and culture department.

Pressley, who became involved in 2010 as chair of the now disbanded city council Committee on Arts, Films, Humanities and Tourism said the designation could bring residents greater opportunities for wealth building, attract more foot traffic, create tourism jobs and ensure recognition of local history.

“This is ostensibly revenue neutral [for the city], but stands to generate a lot of money,” Pressley told the Banner.

The cultural district status brings with it seed money of $5,000, after which those involved with the cultural district plan to support operations through grants and membership dues, Rice said. The dues will be set based on each organization’s operating budget.

Immediate next steps for the cultural district team include creating and publicizing a calendar of existing programming, with the goal of amplifying the economic potential, Rice said.

Other pending steps include explorations of collective events and programs that the cultural district’s governing board can help convene. The group also will publicize simplified, easy-to-follow maps of the district and its cultural assets, according to Rice. Another idea being floated is to hire local artists to create signage advertising the district, which would both provide more local flavor and generate local economic activity.

The cultural district application identified 161 cultural assets, including Roxbury Heritage State Park, the First Church of Roxbury, Hibernian Hall and the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal building.

On to practicalities

Thus far the focus has been on attaining the designation. Now attention shifts to finalizing practicalities of management. Rice said the group intends to proceed as an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization, managed by a board of directors and an executive committee. The board likely will comprise up to 20 members, she said. According to application materials, board seats will be held by dues-paying members and four or five of them may comprise an executive committee that would meet monthly. Once 501(c)(3) designation is official, the Roxbury Cultural District team and the City of Boston will develop a management agreement.

Julie Burros, city chief of arts and culture, said that it can be challenging to be an artist in Boston and find affordable living, work and performance space, although the city provides grants to help them.

“[This designation will] start to create narrative about the identity of that community as a place where culture is happening, where there’s rich cultural heritage and where there are artists,” Burros told the Banner. “What the city is excited about is this builds on city investments in culture,” such as city inclusion of public art in several local buildings, such as the Bolling and the Dudley library branch.

The city will work to assist the cultural district’s operating body.

Making it count

To ensure that the district designation achieves goals of improving art activity and economic activity, its governing body will gather data on events’ ticket sales and attendee counts, the number of new businesses and new full-time employees, cultural district membership counts and other details, according to the application. Rice said they will be gathering baseline data soon, to allow for a before-and-after comparison.

Get involved

The implementation process is ongoing and details are being hammered out. Meetings are open to the public with attendees welcome to weigh in. Currently, meetings are held every other Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The American City Coalition offices at 2136 Washington Street, Roxbury.

A local celebration of the designation is planned for this summer.