Cultural Districts: Creating A String of Pearls

I’ve had the pleasure of counseling cities throughout the US and Canada on creating vibrant cultural districts that go on to become exciting and economically successful hubs. Here’s my list of elements of success.

Authentic to Location. Simply put, a cultural district is the antithesis of a “town centre development” that looks like every other urban shopping area in America.
Identity, known for “something unique.”
Cultural Inclusive and culturally diverse. Don’t limit definition of art, entertainment, or culture.
Started Small. Made a density difference, and grew organically as the market demand expanded.
Right-sized. Not too big. 14 blocks.
Critical mass of activity, 24/7.
Diverse offerings.
Connective Tissue: Space-making sculpture, beacon-lights, outdoor vendors,
murals, small touches. Make the grand intimate. Human scale.
Branded and marketed as a cultural destination.
Visible art.
Economic incentives. Loans. Investment strategies.
Strengthened arts organizations to operate
successful venues.
Artists at the center. Work space. Live space.
Vibrant role for arts education within the district. All ages.
Great partnerships. Civic. Cultural. Educational. Philanthropic. Business and entrepreneurial.
Fun.
Programmed.
Mixed Use.
Box Office.
Green Spaces.
Planned.
Managed.
Funded.

Looking for good examples of this approach? I’m proudest of the City of Indianapolis’ strategies and programs for cultural district development. Through a true bottom-up process, six distinctive and unique districts were shaped, supported, and thrive. Go to culturalindy.org
Check them out.

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