‘Pulse of creativity’: Cummington becomes Massachusetts cultural district


Staff Writer

Published: 03-26-2023 12:28 PM

CUMMINGTON — Approving the creation of “arguably the most rural of all Massachusetts’ cultural districts,” the Mass Cultural Council this week signed off on the designation for Cummington, which makes the town eligible for a $15,000 grant to support a broad range of arts-related activities and goals.

John Bye, a member of the committee that worked on the application, said the impetus came from the Hilltown CDC, and the process began a little over three years ago.

“We thought, why not?” Bye said. “We think Cummington’s a special place.”

With not much more than 800 people, one advantage that Cummington center has over many small towns, he noted, is a “downtown” that isn’t on a highway, because Route 9 bypasses the village.

“We have a village center with an intact Main Street,” Bye said. “It has made all the difference.”

Dotting Main Street, which can be walked in 10 minutes, are two museums (the Kingman Tavern and the Parsonage), a music venue (the Village Church), a gallery (Project Art), Pettengill Park, Cummington Supply, town offices in the Community House, and the former Berkshire Trail School, among other landmarks.

“The cultural district designation will bring recognition to the creative work by artists, authors and performers that Cummington is so well known for, both present and past,” said Project Art director Leslie Ferrin in a statement to the Cultural Council. “It will create new opportunities for the growing regional creative economy and provide support for our business and others located on Main Street and based nearby.”

The town, home at one time or another to two poets laureate, has a noteworthy artistic history, too, symbolized by the William Cullen Bryant Homestead, boyhood home of the famed 19th-century poet and editor of the New York Evening Post; the Community for the Arts, a longtime artists retreat that closed in the 1990s; and the Greenwood Music Camp for classical musicians.

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“There’s always been this pulse of creativity in this place,” Bye said.

He said the Homestead and the Cummington Fairgrounds, though not part of Main Street, are two of the partners in the designation.

Bye said one hope is bringing the town’s different artistic strands together.

“We have musicians, crafters, painters, poets, farmers,” he said. “How can we knit those pieces of culture together and, frankly, build community?”

Select Board member June Lynds said the designation will allow the town to honor and celebrate its rich history.

“Our hope is we’ll be able to bring some folks in, see some of the history and culture, create a little tourism,” she said.

Sen. Paul. W. Mark, D-Becket, Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development, congratulated Cummington on the designation.

“Rural communities have much to offer in terms of arts and culture and are often quiet sanctuaries for those looking to create new works of art in all forms,” Mark said in a statement released by the Cultural Council.

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, said in a statement she hopes the designation “will help to raise awareness about all that Cummington has to offer and hopefully attract more artists, performers, and tourists to this beautiful community.”

Bye said the committee’s first step now is to look at the grant application process.

“I can’t overstate the support of the Hilltown CDC,” he said.

Lynds said she expects the town will kick things off with a celebration.

Cummington is now one of 55 cultural districts across the state. In Hampshire County, the others are Northampton’s Paradise City, Cottage Street in Easthampton and Amherst Center.