HARWICH — A decade ago town officials pursued an Adams Grant to develop a cultural and historic identity for Harwich Center that would spur economic growth. While that didn't come to fruition, there have been several initiatives over the past couple of decades that have been marginally successful in using town cultural assets to attract tourists.
A new program may help realize those earlier visions.
The town is one of seven communities within the commonwealth selected to participate in a new Cultural Compact pilot program through the Massachusetts Cultural Council which seeks to develop a framework fostering creative partnerships between local government and cultural leaders within the community.
“Most importantly, the Cultural Compact is a commitment to the idea that culture is an essential resource for the health and economic well-being of our region,” MCC Executive Director Anita Walker stated when announcing that Harwich would be one of the seven communities chosen for the pilot program.
“This town has a vested interest in culture and the Massachusetts Cultural Council found that an interesting part of why we should be chosen,” Harwich Cultural Council Chair Tina Games said this week.
Games said MCC was particularly impressed with the town's commitment to cultural activities and its financial participation. Harwich is one of only a handful of communities in the state that provides an annual contribution to the local cultural council, she said. MCC was also impressed with the number of cultural events put on in the community each year and was particularly interested in the establishment of the Harwich Cultural Center in the former middle school.
Games said one of the goals of the Harwich Cultural Council for 2018 is to increase its role and presence in the community by collaborating with the cultural center and looking for ways to become partners on projects and events. She said the local council wants to be known for more than just allocating grants.
The council responded to a survey sent out to the 329 cultural councils in the commonwealth. Events like the Harwich Cranberry Festival, Port Summer Nights, Harwich Town Band concerts and numerous chamber of commerce events, including Christmas in the Harwiches, drew interest from the state agency. The Brooks Academy Museum and Cape Cod Theatre Company, home of the Harwich Junior Theatre, and its programs were also cited as contributing cultural activities.
The Massachusetts Council was interest in getting in on the ground level of the Harwich Cultural Center, Games said, which it saw as similar to other successful cultural center initiatives in the commonwealth like the Umbrella in Concord and Artspace in Maynard.
The Cultural Compact is a six-month initiative through MCC with a $75,000 budget. Games said there has not been a financial commitment made to Harwich at this time, but there is a commitment of staff and MCC has a large bank of cultural resources to assist in looking for funding resources. There will be a series of meetings between the local and state councils, town officials and the cultural community. Community Center Director Carolyn Carey, who oversees the cultural center with staff, and the chamber of commerce will also work on the project.
“We'll pull all the players in the community together to create a Cultural Compact,” Games said. “We'll spotlight what we have and take it up a few notches. MCC will come in and assist and see where they can fill in some of the holes.”
Games said Lisa Simmons, a festival program manager, and Meri Jenkins, a program manager with MCC, will work on the project. Games said she was particularly impressed with the depth of knowledge Jenkins had about activities in the town of Harwich.
Jenkins was active in the initiative a decade ago by a group that formed in Harwich exploring the creation of a cultural district. The Friends of the Cultural Exchange Center was working with then-assistant town planner Elizabeth Hude on creating a cultural center in the former recreation building on Sisson Road. MCC was also involved in that project. At the time Jenkins was impressed with the classic charm of Harwich Center, saying it was “oozing with charm.”
The exercise at that time was to focus on the historic attributes of the village, expand cultural activities and defining a plan that converted the area into a destination to bolster the economy. The initiative was never fully implemented.
The new pilot program, Games said, will explore existing resources and determine what else the town can use. Harwich's program could be used as an example for other small towns across the state.
The cultural center is a significant part of this, she said.
“We're already a really vibrant cultural community,” Games said. “It's also an opportunity to recognize how strong we already are.”
Games said the MCC may be able to direct the town toward grant opportunities that would benefit the blossoming cultural center and also serve as a “spacefinder” to direct people looking for venues for cultural events. This could provide financial opportunities for the town, such as leasing of the auditorium, cafeteria and other spaces for theater and arts fairs.
“We're just thrilled to have something like this on our plate,” she said. “We were looking for a place where our voice can be heard. Our mission is so aligned with the Harwich Cultural Council and it makes sense to solidify our relationship.”
The process could lead back to the earlier goal of creating a cultural district. The cultural center's location in proximity to other cultural facilities makes it very attractive, Games said.
“This is a attractive destination and if it is attractive to you, we've got a lot to offer,” she said.
Games said no dates have been set as yet on public meetings relating to Cultural Compact pilot program, but she anticipated dates could be forthcoming in the next week or so. She said the sessions will take place over the next month to a month and a half.