Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guest Post from EDIC's Jim Cowdell - How Important is Arts and Culture to a Downtown?

EDIC Executive Director, James (Jim) Cowdell talks to readers about the formation of an Arts & Cultural District.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about our efforts on the Hawthorne Restaurant. I received a lot of feedback and no matter what side of the issue you were on, I want to sincerely thank you for caring about our city.

Lynn was established in 1629 as a city. It has a long and beautiful history. As you look back, a missing component is a unified arts and cultural district. Now this statement is not meant as a shot at any of the great places we currently have here in Lynn and specifically in our downtown. It’s to get you to start thinking of what we have and more importantly what we could have in the future.

I could produce study after study which would support the economic importance of arts and culture to a city. I think it is empirical data and would certainly be hard for any unbiased person to rebut.

I've heard from restauranteurs Downtown that they don't have to look further than their receipts to see the impact that an art event or a concert at Lynn City Hall Auditorium has on his bottom line.

When there is an event it absolutely helps local businesses. I assume we're all in agreement on that.

So logically speaking, the more ‘events’ that happen, the better it is for existing businesses.

But today, lets go further than that basic concept. Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) of Lynn is currently establishing an Arts and Cultural district. We will be submitting a formal application to the State and when accepted will have a designated area outlining this district. Additionally, we have put aside $500,000 that will be earmarked for low interest loans (4.5%) targeting artists and other innovative businesses to locate in downtown Lynn. These loans can be used to help with start up costs  such as rent, build out, inventory, etc.

Picture downtown Lynn.  Now imagine 30-40 new businesses in downtown with an arts and cultural focus. How many ‘events’ could we have in a year or in a month or even in a week! How many people would that bring to the downtown? How many jobs would that create? How many new residents would be attracted to Downtown Lynn?

There was an election for Mayor of Chicago recently and each candidate was asked, “Why is arts and culture important to a city?”

Let’s take a look at what three of those candidates said:

”The arts humanize community, and give us inspiration and opportunities to connect as people.” Carol Moseley Braun,
Former U.S. Senator

“It is the face and fiber of our city”  Cynthia Plaster Caster,

“Art and culture are essential to the fabric, character and economy of the city.” Gery Chico,

Don’t you think it would be interesting to pose that question to people of this area? What do you think people would say? Do you think people in general see the connection between the Arts and Cultural District and the health and wellness of a city?

The establishment of the Arts and Cultural District is much more than just a positive impact on the local economy. It taps into the energy of a city. As I look at the new residents in our downtown, I can see the energy. It is palpable.

The journey has begun.

Jim Cowdell,
Executive Director


  1. Okay, it seems at least someone is listening. This sounds great. This info needs to get the info about the loans out to innovative businesses and artists.

  2. Jim....Great article, I for one have been to several events at the auditorium, and one at the Lynn Arts, and The Lynn Museum. Events I would not have dreamed about going to just a few short years ago. The trickle down effect works. By bringing more people to downtown, or just to Lynn in general helps boost the local economy. I like that fact that you have opened up the avenue via the blogs to help keep the people of Lynn informed. Keep up the good work........PD

  3. Let's just be sure that the arts aren't simply a means to an end... usually when that happens, the other businesses start to thrive and the artists get kicked out. The artists and the arts need to have a prominence in our community beyond the downtown so this doesn't happen.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us again, Jim. I think many of us in the neighborhood agree with you wholeheartedly on the important role the arts play, and stand behind you in this effort to establish a district through the state.

    Within the district, I would like to see several things:

    1. Affordable spaces for emerging artists. Even with the low interest loans you have available, younger, emerging artists with the kind of energy we'd like, can not afford a way in. How can we help? Or, is this LynnArts' role?

    2. Artists in residency: Let's have a residential version of the Lydia Pinkham building, with a ground floor cafe and venue. twenty-somethings must be able to afford it, or it will not work.(see for a Providence example)

    3. Toss out the downtown sign ordinance within the designated district.

    4. On cross streets within the district, such as Munroe, Oxford, Andrew, Liberty, expose and restore the cobblestone. (Think of the charm it lends SOHO..even Lowell has done this). Spare cobblestones can be dug up while work is being done on other streets. Easy. And don't listen to DPW when they tell you it's un-plowable. Not true.

    5. City Parking lots need signage to let people know it's okay to park in them after a certain time, if the booths are not going to be staffed after business hours. After all, we want more people coming downtown at night. (and clarify Central Square street signage include directional arrows, and hours in effect)

    6. Change ordinances that make it prohibitive to have a sidewalk cafe.

    7. Change ordinances that make it prohibitive to close streets, have sidewalk sales, and to have outside food vendors. Can EDIC or the City subsidize required police details for some festivals? We have found detail expenses to be our main barrier to planning more outdoor events.

    8. I'm sure I'll think of more! :)

    These are just my suggestions, and I'm not sure how they play out with the rules under the state, but in any case, I'm excited about the prospect of the arts district becoming official and any related benefits.

  5. Here's the real #8: A way to allow for pop-up-shops in still unleased storefronts. Of course, these will have to be in those structures already fit for habitation. How do we encourage commercial space landlords in this direction?

    9. Getting more specific. Empty storefronts can also be used to host sculpture and art in temporary window display cases. How it's done: Build a PVC pip structure to hang thick velvet drapes to create the window casement and to block sight of unfinished spaces. Light it, and keep it lit at night to make the neighborhood more inviting. Insert sculpture. Then, rotate them out every once in a while. Provide decals on glass with maps of other installations. It's almost too easy. It just requires interested property owners, who understand the value it ads.

  6. Also requires artists willing to put their art in the window, some sort of stipend for the artist, and the cost of materials for the windows, electricity and insurance for the work. Let's not forget right from the start that artists need to eat and pay their bills and rent and not expect them to do anything for free.

  7. So the artist donates/loans their item and the owner donates/loans the space?

  8. Good points. I think we need to do a little research to find out how Providence handles the art in vacant storefronts program. I've even been in temporary makeshift/pop-up galleries in unoccupied storefront spaces. There must be a cooperation of sorts between the city, landlords and artists. I don't remember seeing sponsors listed.

    I'm going to start asking. In any case, there's proof it's possible.

  9. Peabody does it as well, I believe.

    Seth, your #1 and #2 are key. I don't believe we are affordable for artists.

    Also, we have a bunch of empty storefronts but no landlords will answer phone calls. These aren't buildings that are readily available to occupy. We need to fix that.

    Has there ever been an attempt in this city to bring these landlords to the table? Figure out what they need to get these properties out of the dormant state they are in.

  10. Maybe we are reading this differntly. I like the idea of more events downtown to bring people to Lynn. More shows at the Auditorium, maybe a movie theater, the Spelling Bee, Bourbon St 2011, The North Shore Navs, this gets people out. I am not talking about starving artists getting free rent, or low cost studio space just to show the public a few statues or paintngs. I do not see how that helps anything grow.......PD

  11. I feel they go together. What's an Arts & Culture District if no artists are there?

    You don't get more Spelling Bee's, Bourbon Streets, etc without artists who want to produce in the area. I'm in a lucky situation where my work and family life is flexible enough that I can do both and still afford my mortgage down here.

    It's a proven success story for many cities. Affordable rents with proof of full-time artist status. It needs to be done right, but we need someone to take a risk on something like this. It will pay off ten-fold.


  12. Anon, I wasn't suggesting free room and board, just something affordable. There are successful artist live/work spaces all over the country that somehow emerging artists are able to pay for, and Lynn does not exist in some kind of bizarro world where these things are not possible.

    But as Corey points out, one of our challenges compared to other downtowns is that our landlords tend not to be as responsive or forward-thinking.

    Maybe we need to find out from them, why they're afraid to get involved. Programs such as we're suggesting have only benefited stakeholders, including property owners.

  13. It is all about realestate... Sadly, there aren't many available open spaces for new businesses to move into, and the rental rate is already higher than New Bedford.

  14. Should we meet with commercial real estate companies? Why are rents high, when empty spaces seem to indicate they should be lower?

    And we'd have more available spaces if the crumbling ones were fixed up (looking at Mayo..)

    Our Chamber of Commerice, ironically, had to move out of DTL because rent was too high.

  15. I can tell you that as someone who has been trying to locate a commercial space in DTL it is a real challenge. How are we going to get 30+ new businesses when finding ONE space that is not in a total state of mayhem is a challenge. If you want businesses to take risks and come to DTL then you need to help pave the way!

  16. We just all need to keep moving forward with our individual projects, support each other, and push through the obstacles until it happens.

    Seth, what are the are noise ordinance rules?

  17. Jocelyn, I don't remember off-hand what time noise ordinance rules go into effect. However, if a venue has proper, safe, sound insulation, it won't matter as much. Of course, that's an expense..

    Another way around it is to locate in a non-residential building. When businesses upstairs are closed, it won't matter because there won't be anyone within listening-distance.

    But we do have to remember that this is a downtown, and one shouldn't move to a downtown if they're not up for its activity. I have little sympathy for the Salem residents who bought or rented above active venues because they thought it might be cool to live there, and then started complaining about the very things that probably drew them in. Similarly, I've heard of Fenway residents complaining about the stadium...really? They didn't notice it there before they signed!?

    Jocelyn, I think you knew that would get me going. :)

  18. I think Arts & Culure District initiative is so exciting, and I see so many great ideas in the comments. I'm on-board with Seth about eliminating the sign ordinance for the Arts District. We need banners and public art(hopefully a mural soon!) to set the district apart and generate some great visual energy. Many of the things that people hope for already exist, we need to publicize them more! We've got the largest collection of antique Neon Signs in New England in the Prime Building, and Bobby's of Boston uses the same space for storage. Maybe he would be willing to open a satellite store like the one he has in SOWA? We've got a music building full of bands right on the corner of Munroe. LynnArts added 11 new art studios to our third floor last fall (starting at $150), and we're getting bids to build 4 additional studios, with the goal to hold our first open studios in the fall. Gordy Hall has opened a floor in one of his buildings for art studios and we've been referring our waiting list to him. It would be a great kick-off for the district to have the music building, our studios, the Lynn Museum, the Prime and RAW open to the public.

    Our neighbor next door is more than willing to have people come in and do his windows. Our 4 year old display is looking pretty sad! I think Kimberly Smith of Students4Students is working on this, but I'm sure she could use some help!

    People have created an amazing network for advertising what's going on, but it would be wonderful if the City created an umbrella marketing campaign. There are some great models for this that can be found at the Mass Cultural Council Website,

    Patricia Keefe has a vision of Lynn as the music capital of the North Shore. There's lot of stuff going on, and hopefully this is just the ground floor. As Jim says, the energy is palpable!

  19. Thanks, Susan! I sent an email to Kimberly Smith to offer help, (with un-solicited ideas,) and of course, coverage in LynnHappens. :)

  20. One thing we definitely need to do soon is get those signs out of that building and on to the streets, Susan.

    I would love information on the Gordy Hall rental spaces for the blog.

    I didn't realize Patricia was in to the arts. I have met her often at city council and chamber meetings. Is she starting some music programming?

  21. Let's just be sure that the arts aren't simply a means to an end... usually when that happens, the other businesses start to thrive and the artists get kicked out. The artists and the arts need to have a prominence in our community beyond the downtown so this doesn't happen.

  22. This "Soul of the Community" study also supports the important link between arts & economic development. It shows arts and other cultural offerings increase resident attachment, which in turn is closely related to local GDP growth.


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