May 28, 2024
ECCF, MVPC and MeVa receive Our Town grant from National Endowment for the Arts

Funding to help elevate public transportation in the Merrimack Valley as a critical element of community culture

The primary role of public transit is, undoubtedly, to get people from one place to another.

But a group of nonprofit organizations have come together to make public transportation in the Merrimack Valley so much more. Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC) and Merrimack Valley Transit, best known as MeVa – the regional transit authority providing free public bus service to 16 cities and towns along the Merrimack River – are proud to announce that they have been awarded a two-year, $125,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

ECCF is leveraging its long-term collaboration with MVPC and expanding that partnership in the Merrimack Valley to include MeVa so together, the three organizations can rethink the way they serve their shared constituencies. This grant award represents a significant step towards that goal.

Since 2019, ECCF, through its Creative County Initiative, and MVPC have been collaborating on cultural planning and asset mapping activities across the Merrimack Valley, a region largely located within Essex County. In 2023, the organizations launched MVCulture and hired Jenny Arndt to serve as the first Merrimack Valley Arts & Culture Specialist. For the last eight months, Arndt has been working to build community around arts and culture planning as a fundamental cornerstone of downtown vibrancy and sustainable economic development.

Funding from the NEA will broaden the scope of that work.

“The Our Town Grant represents a unique opportunity for ECCF, MVPC and MeVa to collaboratively change the public’s mindset about public transit as a critical element of community culture,” said Karen Ristuben, program director of Creative County at ECCF. “Working closely with the diverse communities of MeVa’s service area, our goal is to connect bus service to aspects of arts and culture in a way it hasn’t been before.”

MeVa’s service district is anchored by the Merrimack River and is centered on the gateway cities of Lawrence, Haverhill and Methuen, while also extending to the seacoast, as well as more rural and suburban communities further south and east of the river. MeVa carries almost three million riders per year, connecting residents with all that the Merrimack Valley has to offer aboard its vibrantly designed buses, inspired by the colors of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico or Zona Colonial in the Dominican Republic.

“MeVa is fully committed to working in close collaboration with partners ECCF and MVPC to equitably open access to our region’s cultural treasures regardless of race, age, gender or ability to pay,” said Kassandra Gove, chair of the MeVa Advisory Board and mayor of Amesbury, a city located in MeVa’s service area.

NEA funding for MVCulture will specifically focus on providing staffing and project support to:

  • Engage with artists to improve access to and from arts and cultural hubs through signage, maps, guides and cultural tours, and to create safe, vibrant and welcoming bus stops, shelters and transit hubs.
  • Build and support a coalition of creative leaders across the region to work with MVPC, MeVa and others to advance placemaking, place keeping, creative space development and creative sector advocacy.
  • Identify new cultural development projects to advance MVPC’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategyand ECCF’s systems change strategies for the creative sector.

“MVPC is excited to join with ECCF and MeVa to bring the MVCulture project to life and enrich the arts and culture network across the Merrimack Valley,” said Jerrard Whitten, executive director of MVPC. “This regional project will create a lasting legacy of connectivity, cultural enrichment and community resilience.”

The NEA grant for MVCulture is one of 68 grants nationwide totaling $5 million (and one of only three in Massachusetts) that the NEA has approved in the Our Town category. These creative placemaking grants support projects that integrate arts, culture and design activities into local efforts to strengthen and authentically engage communities, center equity, advance artful lives and lay the groundwork for long-term systems change.

“Projects like MVCulture exemplify the creativity and care with which communities are telling their stories, creating connection and responding to challenges and opportunities in their communities—all through the arts,” said NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD. “So many aspects of our communities such as cultural vitality, health and wellbeing, infrastructure and the economy are advanced and improved through investments in art and design, and the National Endowment for the Arts is committed to ensuring people across the country benefit.”

For more information on all projects included in the Arts Endowment grant announcement, visit

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. In 25 years, ECCF and its growing family of 300+ charitable funds have granted $169 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 800,000+ residents. Learn more at

About MVPC
The Merrimack Valley Planning Commission is a regional planning agency created in 1959 with a goal of consistently planning, developing, and promoting not only the sustainable development of the Merrimack Valley through responsible and efficient use of regional resources, but to also rally and unify the communities to perpetuate the region’s vision. A 16-member Board of Commissioners governs the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, which serves 15 member communities, including the cities of Amesbury, Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen and Newburyport, and the towns of Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac, Newbury, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury. Learn more at

About MeVa
MeVa is the regional transit authority providing free public bus transportation to 16 cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley. The bulk of MeVa’s fixed route service is based in the three Gateway City communities of Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill, with service stretching into surrounding rural and coastal towns. For many residents in the region, MeVa serves as the primary source of access and mobility. Learn more at

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