What is a Cultural District?

Cultural districts are areas designated or certified by state governments that aim to foster a thriving arts and cultural sector. They are geographically designated portions of a jurisdiction that typically encompass a city or town center or neighborhood district. Many states have adopted legislation pertaining to the establishment of cultural districts. As of 2015, 13 states have established active cultural districts programs; one additional state has enacted a policy to support cultural districts but has not yet launched a program. Through these programs, approximately 250 cultural districts have been designated across the country.

Cultural district programs strive to advance a variety of planning goals including tourism, historic preservation, business and job development, and the clustering of arts and cultural activity. Many states have also established criteria for certifying or designating cultural districts; assistance offered to districts by state arts agencies ranges from planning and technical assistance to tax incentives.

Cultural Districts in Massachusetts

Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 10, Section 58A and authorizes the establishment of criteria and guidelines for state-designated cultural districts. The MCC defines a cultural district is "a specific geographical area in a city or town 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." The goals of cultural districts in Massachusetts, as defined by MGL Chapter 10, Section 58A, are to:

  1. Attract artists and cultural enterprises
  2. Encourage business and job development
  3. Establish the district as a tourist destination
  4. Preserve and reuse historic buildings
  5. Enhance property values
  6. Foster local cultural development

Cultural districts that are awarded designation maintain this status for five years; designation may be renewed for another five years if the district is in compliance with annual progress reporting requirements and there is evidence of ongoing municipal commitments to the cultural district's work.

As of June 2016, Massachusetts Cultural Districts legislation does not include a provision for grant funds or other financial rewards to communities. However, the MCC has compiled a list of state agencies and departments that administer technical assistance and funding opportunities that are beneficial to municipalities that have established cultural districts. This includes:

  • Film tax and abandoned building renovation tax credits, technical assistance, and development incentive programs offered by the Massachusetts Office of Business Development
  • Technical assistance with planning, community, and economic development projects focused on downtowns, including wayfinding, BIDs, and cultural district feasibility studies offered by the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative of the Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Technical assistance with historic facilities, parkways, open spaces, and landscapes offered by the Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Matching grants for public humanities programming that explores the meaning of place and the special character or identity of a community or place offered by Mass Humanities
  • Signage placement on state roads and highways that direct people to cultural districts, grants that promote implementation of Complete Streets design standards in cultural district areas, and access to federal transportation enhancement grants that promote pedestrian, bicycle, and street and roadway beautification offered by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation
  • Promotion of cultural districts on consumer and travel industry sections of state tourism website, cultural district promotion in arts and history newsletters, and assistance on how to market cultural districts assets to domestic and international visitors offered by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

Learn more about the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative.


Innovation Districts in Massashusetts

Increasingly, cities and regions have come to realize the importance of catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship through planning, policy, and development approaches. The greater Boston area has been at the forefront of developing innovation ecosystems to drive the local and regional economy. Lessons from two of its well-established districts have helped shape other cities' plans for innovation districts across the country. Creating spaces where creative people can work, connect with potential partners, and develop their ideas into projects is a critical component to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. Other elements common to successful efforts include building relationships with educational institutions, and facilitating communication across industries and between the public sector and communities of entrepreneurs and creative professionals. Finally mixing spaces for work with housing and nightlife activities are important for generating a sustainable hub of innovation.

Together, Boston and Cambridge are home to three distinct innovation districts, organized around different management and development strategies, and operating at different scales. Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA, developed as a place where academic discoveries from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could fuel business ideas in the engineering and life sciences sectors. The Boston Innovation District represents a successful example of a city government using innovation to fuel economic development and transform its working waterfront into a dynamic, mixed-use 21st century neighborhood. The Talbot Norfolk Triangle (TNT) Eco-Innovation District showcases the potential for innovation to operate at the scale of an existing residential neighborhood and integrate technical knowledge of environmentally sustainable practices into local workforce development strategies.


This study details the Saint Anthony Pop-Up Shop, a project which entailed creative partnerships used a vacant storefront to express the identity and vision of the neighborhood. Included in the toolkit are FAQs for all parties in a rental or lease situation, a proposed timeline and workflow for a successful pop-up shop, a sample annotated leases and potential renter profiles.

This field scan, commissioned by ArtPlace America,explores the intersection of arts, culture, and housing outcomes ? focused specifically on work within the housing sector that seeks to build and maintain high quality housing affordable to low-and moderate-income individuals. Through an analysis of both housing sector priorities and place-based arts and cultural work, this scan uncovers six primary ways that creative placemaking strategies are helping to meet affordable housing goals.

This field scan, commissioned by ArtPlace America, is an inquiry into the state of arts, culture, and creative placemaking as it relates to the public safety sector. Its findings and recommendations draw upon existing literature, an online survey of 100 creative placemaking stakeholders, and semi-structured interviews with the community of artists, thought leaders, investors, and organizations working at this intersection. It also identifies projects at the intersection of creative placemaking and public safety and organizes them into five areas of activity.