The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) board reviewed the town’s application to become a state-sanctioned cultural district and voted unanimously to approve it
Lexington Economic Development Director Sandhya Iyer was perched over her computer Wednesday morning, nervously watching a live stream of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) as the board reviewed the Town’s application to become a state-sanctioned cultural district. According to Iyer, the only questions seemed to be ones of disbelief; board members were clearly surprised that Lexington hadn’t already won the designation years ago. By 10:30 a.m., Iyer’s tension evaporated. The board’s decision: a unanimous “yes.”
Being recognized by the state as a Cultural District brings a number of benefits, including access to additional grant monies from MCC and the State. Other benefits a cultural district label would bring include fostering tourism and attracting artists and cultural enterprises. Iyer shared a flyer that was created to generate local support which also mentioned the potential of the designation to “help foster local cultural development and drive economic growth… collaboration among town organizations” leading to a proverbial sum that would be greater than the individual parts.
In a press release following the vote, Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council, noted that the award “will boost the creative and cultural economies of their host towns [including the other new designee, Cummington, Massachusetts], by driving tourism and offering programming – and we are thrilled to welcome them to the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative!”
Iyer, who spearheaded the Town’s application, had been cautiously optimistic about securing the designation before the vote. “Bedford recently received the designation, and Arlington and Concord and Winchester had it before,” she noted. Given the wide range of Lexington’s historical assets alone, she felt the Town should be a contender.
In the Town’s application, Iyer had enumerated Lexington’s many historical and cultural assets, from the Battle Green (site of the first skirmish of the Revolutionary War) to colonial-era buildings like Buckman Tavern (1710). Cary Library is now the second-busiest library in the Commonwealth. She also cited the town’s wide array of community organizations such as those representing Chinese American, Black, Korean, Japanese and Indian residents.
After learning of Wednesday’s announcement, Iyer got back to work immediately, formulating next steps with her team by that afternoon. First on the list: letting everyone know via a posting on the Town website with the announcement and a map. Then, Iyer went back to work on an application for a Cultural District Investment (CDI) grant for $15K which Iyer was already formulating. Her department has also begun planning a ribbon cutting of sorts for mid-May, just before the busy May 20 weekend that will feature the Festival of Colors, Open Studios, the Lexington Garden Club’s annual sale and hopefully, the Lexington Symphony’s spring outdoor program. They also have to develop a full-blown marketing campaign, including a new brand, a logo and a cultural district website.
When will Iyer have a chance to enjoy the so-called fruits of her labors? She chuckled good-naturedly, with no apparent answer, apologizing as she said she was walking to tackle her next task.