Initiative Looks To Link Arts, Culture And Economic Development

Jul 18, 2016

Students from Springfield's Community Music School perform at the press launch of Futurecity Massachusetts.
Credit WAMC

   A new initiative called Futurecity Massachusetts looks to put culture and the arts at the core of economic development and revitalization projects.  The state’s three largest cities are the initial participants in the venture. 

   The Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Boston Foundation have hired consultant Mark Davy’s London-based Futurecity to come up with unique strategies for Boston, Worcester, and Springfield to use cultural assets, not just as passive attractions, but to drive job growth.

   Davy toured parts of the three cities last week and met with local cultural leaders, economic development specialists, urban planners, and elected officials.  He’ll return in the fall to present his plans for the three cities.

  " Any  cultural ideas will probably have a very defined area. What we want to do is say the whole city is cultural," Davy explained in an interview. " That means new roads, buildings, whatever is going on should be part of the cultural idea."

  This is Davy’s firm’s first work in the United States. He’s done more than 200 projects around the world. 

  He said Springfield has a lot to work with given its rich history of innovation during the Industrial Revolution, renowned attractions such as the Springfield Museums, and the birthplace of cultural touchstones such as the Monopoly board game.

  " Businesses want to relocate to authentic interesting places," said Davy.  " I do think this is the time of  the smaller city. So what is great for Springfield is that it is big enough to have a serious presence and something serious to offer. But it is small enough that a lot of organizations can come together quickly. Sometimes the big cities have just too much going on."

   Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the Springfield Central Cultural District, expects the project will identify new opportunities for the city’s cultural and arts organizations.

  "Helping performing venues like  Symphony Hall and Citystage connect to people who live and work around here by not just hosing events inside their venues I think will be a clear outcome we will see," said Drewniany.

  She also believes it could put new life into long-pending projects such as the restoration of Pynchon Park and repairs to Riverfront Park.

" We are  not just talking about tourism, but really bricks and mortar," she said.

Speaking at a press conference in Springfield to announce the launch of Futurecity Massachusetts, Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, called the initiative a quantum leap in taking the state’s creative economy to a new level.

"What we are doing now is turning that passive  magnet into a powerful marketplace driver. We are moving arts and culture to the front seat, to the drivers seat about city making in America and here in Massachusetts and Springfield," said Walker.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he did not hesitate for a minute to sign on for the project.

" Sometimes there is a divide. The arts and culture here and business there. Now we could have  a marriage made in heaven and I want to take full advantage of that," said Sarno.

The planning work done by Davy and his team will not cost Springfield any money.