Hyannis eyes cultural district title

By Tara Jayakar, Cape Cod Times

HYANNIS — Barnstable officials are taking steps to ask the state to declare the current HyArts district in Hyannis a designated cultural district in hopes of bolstering the town’s image as an art destination and cultural mecca.

“I just think it’s going to be an enormous plus for our community,” said Hyannis Public Library Director Carol Saunders.

The district is the result of collaboration among the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Cape Cod Art Association in Barnstable, the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District, the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, Hyannis Area and Cape Cod chambers of commerce and the town of Barnstable.

Cultural districts were created through the Economic Development bill, passed in 2010, but there was no funding attached to the program. However, the designation allows towns to partner with other state agencies to place signs on highways and in towns to showcase the cultural district’s facilities and bring attention to the area, Greg Liakos of the Massachusetts Cultural Council said.

The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism will also have a website listing all of the cultural districts in the state with hopes of bringing more attention — and more business — to the area.

Melissa Hersh, Barnstable’s arts and culture coordinator said the designation would place Hyannis in a better position for state and local funding.

“At this time there are no current financial rewards as a designated district but the ‘official’ cultural district designation will capitalize on existing cultural events and opportunities,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Being able to say that you’re a member of the Massachusetts Cultural Council certainly gives you a benefit.”

The designation would last five years, with renewal granted on the basis of proper maintenance and adequate funding. Five Massachusetts towns have already completed their applications and site visits, Liakos said. Those areas — Boston’s Fenway area, downtown Rockport, downtown Lynn, downtown Pittsfield and the Rocky Neck in Gloucester — will be up for council approval at their March 20 meeting.

Hyannis is the first area on the Cape to apply. It will probably be up for approval in May, Liakos said.

The HyArts district only includes the summer art shanties at the harbor, Hyannis Harbor Art Center at the Guyer Barn on South Street and the artist studios on Pearl Street. If the cultural district is approved, the designated area would expand to include eight blocks of Main Street, the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, the Hyannis inner harbor and several “trails,” such as a Kennedy Legacy Trail leading from Main Street to the Kennedy memorial on the harbor.

Sarah Holl, Pearl Street’s artist in residence for five years, is excited to think of Hyannis as an art destination.

“People tend to follow the artists” said Holl. “(It’s) encouraging the people of the town to just be exposed more to art.”

“Hyannis has all the elements,” said Holl. “The light, the harbor “» it’s beautiful.”

Establishing the area as a cultural magnet could do more than help local artists. With the increased business comes increased tax revenue as well as the ability to attract more artists, entrepreneurs and cultural institutions.

“Our sense of place will be strengthened,” Hersh said. “(Visitors) come down to visit local businesses, they come down to eat in the local restaurants. By more people coming here, more dollars are being spent.”

Eventually, she thinks, the cultural designation could lead to another local nonprofit that would help fund the arts in Hyannis.

Kevin M. Howard, executive director of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, said that he thinks the Hyannis designation would ultimately be good on and off the Cape.

“It’s a good-housekeeping seal of approval of sorts,” Howard said, because it classifies the town as a “successful, attractive cultural district area.”

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