Becket officials seek cultural designation for downtown

Monday December 24, 2012

BECKET -- Becket will aim to exploit its cultural assets in 2013 beyond the efforts from historic and acclaimed dance studio Jacob’s Pillow.

The town will request the state to designate its downtown core -- the Becket Anthenaeum, the Mullen House Education Center and Becket Arts Center on Main Street -- a cultural district.

Administrator Paul Campbell, of the Becket Arts Center, a member of a four-person committee spearheading the effort, said that an application could be submitted early next year to have Becket join 14 cities and towns to receive designations from the Massachusetts Cultural Commission.

Representatives from the Mullen House Education Center, Becket Arts Center and Becket Antheneaum, along with Becket Washington School, are on the committee.

"Our plan is to be the smallest cultural district in the Commonwealth, but with the largest arm with Jacob’s Pillow," said Campbell, referring to the acclaimed dance center famous for its summer dance festival.

MCC designates a cultural district as a compact, walkable area of a community with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets, according to the state website.

In the new year, Campbell said that the town through this newly formed committee -- and the Becket Arts Center on its own -- will explore what it can do to promote culture and boost economic development at the same time.

"It is specifically for economic development for tourist growth to create a more active arts culture and historic [scene]," Campbell said. "It’s to please both local residents and tourists."

The Becket Arts Center has spent $15,000 it has fundraised on consultant research and studies, building analysis, and surveys of other artistic centers to explore ways that the Center can be enhanced.

In 2013, the town will devise a plan to spend $15,000 in state-matching funds to create a cultural district. Campbell said that a public hearing -- a date has not been determined -- will be held to solicit community input.

The collaborative effort from the committee will result in an expanded autumn equinox celebration next fall and a summer sostice party because of the committee.

"The organizations have worked separately for so long, but now everyone is really coming together," Campbell said.

Town officials have also said that they will invest Community Development Block Grant funding for work in North Becket Village where it is located.

Megan Whilden, director of cultural development for Pittsfield, the first city in Western Massachusetts to receive a cultural district designation, said that culture is a worthy investment.

Whilden also said the cultural district designation brings positive press coverage, promotes collaboration between cultural partners, and raises community pride.

Currently, the designation doesn’t from the state, but Whilden said that could change once the economy improves.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is currently trying to find creative ways to pull funding from the Highway Department, Department of Housing and Community Development and other state agencies to help foster cultural development, Whilden said.

Citing results from a 2005 and 2010 national Arts and Economic Prosperity study, which was funded by the national nonprofit Americans for the Arts, Whilden said that local government revenue and Pittsfield residential household income increased in the high 40 percent range over the last five years.

Arts and cultural event attendance in Pittsfield increased from 225,000 in 2005 to 606,239 in 2010, according to the study.

To reach John Sakata:
or 413-496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata


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