June 19, 2019
The Importance of Cultural Planning | Press Release

Arts and culture are powerful tools for communities to engage, connect, learn and grow.

In 2018, when Essex County Community Foundation launched its Creative County Initiative – a partnership with the Barr Foundation to elevate arts and culture in Essex County – we knew cultural planning could help transform our region.

“Arts and culture reflect the identities of communities and provide possibilities for their growth and evolution,” said Karen Ristuben, ECCF’s Creative County Initiative Program Director. “The goal of working with local communities to learn how to infuse cultural development into community development is multi-fold. A cultural action plan enriches the cultural life of a city or town while helping to fuel economic growth and enhance the safety, health and connectivity of our communities.”

This spring, ECCF, in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, completed four sub-regional Cultural Planning Labs. Held throughout Essex County, these Labs offered cultural planning concepts and resources to all of Essex County’s 34 cities and towns.

Thirty municipalities – and 122 municipal planners, elected and appointed officials, local boards and committees, cultural councils and representatives from key arts, culture, business and tourism organizations – participated.

ECCF’s goal was to introduce the benefits of cultural planning to stakeholders in Essex County and highlight the importance of cultural resources in the region. The result was a robust discussion among participants about the players, present cultural conditions, important principles, current paths and next steps to bringing people together to support the arts and culture ecosystem. Discussion highlights from the Labs include:

  • The importance of regional collaboration
  • The identification of potential shared resources among Essex County’s communities
  • The utilization of the new partnership between ECCF, MAPC and MVPV to support good work already happening in Essex County

You can now read a comprehensive report on the Creative County Initiative Cultural Planning Labs here.

On Aug. 7, join ECCF as we work collaboratively on the Creative County Initiative’s first major participatory cultural asset-mapping project for Essex County, which will focus on connecting the people, places, organizations and events that give the 15 cities and towns of the Merrimack Valley their unique identity and vibrancy.

“While the immediate focus will be on the Merrimack Valley, we expect this process will inform and inspire later asset-mapping work across Essex County,” said Ristuben.

Artists, nonprofit organizations, community and business leaders and anyone interested in elevating arts and culture in the Merrimack Valley – and Essex County – should register for “The Value of Arts & Culture: Mapping Our Assets in the Merrimack Valley” taking place on Aug. 7, from 9am – 1pm at the Umass Innovation Hub in Haverhill.

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