'Gateway City' Residents Favor The Arts

By Cristina Quinn

Dec. 5. 2011

lowell folk festival

The Lowell Folk Festival in 2009. Lowell is one of the "Gateway Cities" in Mass. that is using the arts to spur economic growth. (Dick Howe Jr./Flickr)

BOSTON —  The results from a recent poll taken by the MassINC research group shows overwhelming support for using the arts as a catalyst for economic development in the Bay State’s so-called “Gateway Cities,” such as New Bedford, Lawrence and Brockton.
The survey was given in October to 600 registered voters in the 11 Gateway Cities. Eight in 10 voters said that they supported government funding for arts events and activities. The results were released on Dec. 1.
John Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC, said he was surprised at how favorably voters viewed arts and culture as an economic development activity.

"Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities are defined by their common industrial past, their struggle to reinvent themselves, and their location outside of Greater Boston. They include Fall River, New Bedford, Brockton, Worcester, Fitchburg, Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, Springfield, Holyoke and Pittsfield." 
—  Source: UMass Dartmouth "Gateway Cities" Project

“There’s an element of risk in really promoting arts and culture. I think there’s a perception that it only benefits a few. And I think our survey clearly shows that voters don’t see it that way at all. They see the benefits as broadly shared throughout the community,” Schneider said.
Brockton mayor Linda Balzotti has seen how infusing arts into a downtown has benefited cities like Lowell and Pittsfield. She’s following suit with a major retail, commercial and residential project that includes a 40-unit artist loft housing project in downtown Brockton.
“I know that there is a demand out there for artists to have space in order to be able to do their work, because studio space is expensive,” Balzotti said. She hoped the city project might encourage property owners who have vacant upper-floor lots to rent that space out to artists as well — which would serve both artists and Brockton. 

MassINC received a $125,000 ArtPlace grant in September to explore arts-based growth strategies for Massachusetts' Gateway Cities. This poll is one of the institute’s initiatives under that grant.
Read the complete MassINC report.
"With two award-winning theaters, art galleries, restaurants, vibrant public art, museums, and cultural events and activities, Pittsfield markets itself as “Creative Pittsfield.” Lowell shares a similar story. A downtown arts district sparked a migration of artists and other creative types into the city, improving downtown and leading to other unique projects like the Western Avenue Studio, one of the largest buildings of its kind on the East Coast. New Bedford has revitalized its downtown through its AHA! program and a partnership with UMass that brought the school’s College of Visual and Performing Arts into the heart of downtown…." — Excerpt from the MassINC report

Cristina Quinn is a radio reporter for WGBH News. You can email her with story ideas or follow her on Twitter @cristinaWGBH.



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