Our Opinion: North Adams earned MCC recognition

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) Tuesday awarded North Adams a coveted cultural district designation, joining Williamstown and Pittsfield among the 43 state cities and towns so designated to date (Eagle, August 30.) The prestigious designation provides the official state imprimatur on the city's ongoing redevelopment efforts.

"The initiative is an economic development program," said Meri Jenkins, program director of the Massachusetts Cultural District initiative. "It's designed to build on efforts already underway. It brings stakeholders together to form an agenda, and importantly puts the municipality at the heart of that agenda." North Adams, she added, has been a hub of civic activity, including the development of Down Street Art, MCLA Presents and other programs designed to leverage the city's cultural assets into concrete progress. The process to achieve designation is a rigorous one, a course the city and its government must actively pursue in order to show willingness to work with the council for its own betterment.

The council's role in the process is to facilitate conversation and remove impediments between stakeholders, including city government, the cultural and business communities. In fact, Tuesday's designation is a recognition of the fact that the council has had its eye on the city for a long time. "We have been supportive of Mass MoCA," Ms. Jenkins said, "and MCLA, for example, has one of the best arts administration programs in the Commonwealth."

As a further sweetener, the proximity of other cultural districts in Williamstown and Pittsfield adds a kind of cultural critical mass. "It enables a regional approach to the entire north county. You can begin to see that in terms of moving people around, it gives both local people and visitors a cohesive way to find out about the districts," Ms. Jenkins said. And to emphasize the economic character of the designation, she added, "The longer you can keep people in a place, the more money they spend."

Today, internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry is visiting North Adams along with former Governor William Weld, an early Mass MoCA advocate, to tour the 10-acre site for the proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum. Mr. Gehry has agreed to design the new museum, according to Thomas Krens, director emeritus of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, who is credited with the concept of Mass MoCA (Eagle, August 30.) Mr. Gehry has the kind of star power that could help bring the project to fruition. Should it not, the effort will ideally have been accompanied by infrastructure improvements that as Mayor Richard Alcombright observed will benefit the city.

Over the decades, North Adams has made great strides in its journey from thriving manufacturing center to burgeoning arts and culture destination. There have been and will continue to be setbacks — the long-term controversies surrounding the financially strapped North Adams Redevelopment Authority (Eagle, August 31) continue to be a headache for the city. On balance, however, the city should be optimistic, and the MCC has provided further cause.


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