Columnist Sarah la Cour: Power of culture benefits Amherst

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The “Power of Culture” is the new catchphrase and marketing campaign recently launched by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC).

It is mounting this invaluable effort to bring attention to the people, places, activities and events that make the commonwealth of Massachusetts a remarkable place. It also emphasizes that those cultural forces can, and do, leverage other significant impacts.

According to the MCC website, “Culture unites (and) is essential to the health and vitality of the Commonwealth … Culture builds community, fosters creativity, and drives social change. It’s also a proven economic engine, delivering billions of dollars in economic activity year after year. Culture is intrinsically valuable and unique in its ability to lift the human spirit.”

And to think that we have that right here in downtown Amherst in spades. The MCC officially designated the Amherst Center Cultural District in May 2016. Since that time we have been celebrating both that designation and our rich cultural resources.

The vast array and variety of resources that exist in downtown are worth mentioning again. We have Frederick Law Olmsted-designed landscapes, Revolutionary and Civil War grave sites, century-old trees and strong links to several prominent historical figures, including one very famous poet.

In addition to these more commonly known, our cultural assets include powerful public artworks, numerous sites and buildings that tell the story of Amherst’s heritage and growth, and people and places that embrace culture through literature, film and a variety of performance art forms.

With its “Power of Culture” campaign, the MCC is helping folks across the commonwealth recognize how to turn incredible resources like ours into economic generators. There is now concrete data to indicate that cultural activities and institutions bring significant revenue into a community. This is primarily through people attending specific sites, festivals and events, but also through hotel bookings and local dining and shopping.

Ultimately, the more feet in the street, the more dollars in the bank. But it is actually bigger than that. It becomes about being a destination — more specifically, a place that people come back to, again and again, because of the culture. How many of you moved here, or continue to live here, because of the rich cultural environment?

Since our cultural district designation in downtown Amherst, we have held several events that link our artistic and business communities and have prepared a brochure that captures the heart and soul of our cultural district. Most importantly, we are providing an opportunity for our diverse and varied organizations to convene and collaborate under one umbrella.

Through a third-party agreement with the town of Amherst, the Business Improvement District manages the Amherst Center Cultural District and operates as a conduit for sharing information and coordinating activities. Because of the economic impact to downtown, we see it as one more critical layer of marketing and promotion that breathes life and vitality into Amherst’s town center.

With the amount of creativity and community spirit that thrives in Amherst, the MCC’s effort to bring more attention to cultural resources and their economic impact is powerful indeed. We have long been a community that embraces and celebrates our cultural heritage and creative economy.

With the Amherst Center Cultural District and the strong support of the MCC, we will take our rightful place among the many distinct cultural hot spots within the commonwealth and our town will see the financial and social benefits. Although there are many ways that Amherst can, and should, “unite” to “build community, foster creativity and drive social change,” culture is key.

We believe in the “Power of Culture.” Thank you MCC for guiding the commonwealth and Amherst in this great, new endeavor.

Sarah la Cour, of Amherst, is executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.