May 8, 2020
Merrimack Valley: Place and Meaning 2020

New Cultural Mapping Project Invites Public to Share Valued Spaces, Places and Activities

Merrimack Valley, MA — What if there was one place you could “visit” to learn more about the spaces, places, activities events, and memories that define community, culture, and connection for all of your friends and neighbors?

Thanks to a new cultural mapping project, residents of the 15 Essex County communities that make up the Merrimack Valley will soon have that opportunity.

Merrimack Valley: Place and Meaning 2020 will, for the first time and in one central location, highlight the region’s arts and cultural assets to better define what makes living in this area Essex County meaningful and help people make connections that go beyond our physical borders.

Essex County communities located in the Merrimack Valley include Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.

The project – planned before the COVID-19 pandemic, but one that takes on extra special meaning now – is a partnership between Essex County Community Foundation’s Creative County Initiative, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC), Tom Borrup of Creative Community Builders and Marquis Victor, executive director of Lawrence-based Elevated Thought, an arts and social justice nonprofit.

And now they are asking you – the people who live, work and play in the Merrimack Valley – to put your personal stamp on it. From now through June 30, you are invited to go online to www.placeandmeaning.mvpc.org to participate by identifying the places, events, and celebrations that matter to you most and to share stories, images, poems, songs and drawings that bring those things to life.

“We want to hear from everyone and anyone who has a special connection to the Merrimack Valley,” said Karen Ristuben, program director for ECCF’s Creative County Initiative. “Your submission might be a local museum or music hall, a little-known section of an area park, a piece of public art, an annual celebration or a memory of a place you used to go sledding as a kid.”

The result will be a searchable database mapping the arts and cultural places and spaces in the region and a Merrimack Valley “expression book” that will be shared digitally and through a limited-edition print copy.

Merrimak Valley: Place and Meaning 2020 will also build a “road map” that will help cities and towns to plan for and support the cultural assets that make our communities safe, healthy, vibrant, and connected.

“Cultural assets have a real economic impact on the communities they are in,” said Nate Robertson, Community, and Economic Development Planner at MVPC. “This tool will help municipalities proactively identify, preserve, and grow meaningful places and events in their communities.”

But most importantly, this new one-stop collection of cultural assets and stories will become an important piece of history that will help to document and illustrate the deeper meaning of community in the Merrimack Valley.

“Communities are where we find meaning and social unity,” said Ristuben. “This sense of community has always been critically important, but especially during this time of social distancing, we need to take extra special care to remain connected.”

About ECCF

The mission of Essex County Community Foundation is to inspire philanthropy that strengthens the communities of Essex County. We do this by managing charitable assets, strengthening and supporting nonprofits, and engaging in strategic community leadership. Since 1998, ECCF and its family of more than 230 charitable funds have granted $85 million to nonprofits, schools, and students in Essex County and beyond. Our ultimate goal is to have 34 thriving cities and towns in Essex County and to improve the quality of life for the region’s nearly 800,000 residents. Learn more at eccf.org.

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Column: Systems of support help local students make gains

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