Vineyard Haven — next state designated cultural district?

Anita Walker (left), executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Amy Ryan, director of the Vineyard Haven library, take a minute to talk shop in the Bunch of Grapes bookstore on Main Street. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Vineyard Haven wants to get on the map. Literally. On Thursday, representatives of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) and a handful of town and Island officials toured downtown Vineyard Haven and stopped in at a number of businesses as part of an application process to designate Vineyard Haven a state cultural district.

If approved, the designation would put Vineyard Haven on the state arts and culture map, said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

“Because Vineyard Haven is the year-round gateway to the Island, establishing a cultural district is a way of telling everyone who leaves the ferry that they are coming to a special place, a place that celebrates arts and culture,” Ms. Gardella said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse artistic and executive director MJ Bruder-Munafo led the tour that began at 1 pm at the Vineyard Haven Library and included stops at the Playhouse, CB Stark Jewelers, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, the cupola deck of the Mansion House and The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

The tour culminated with a brief boat ride around Vineyard Haven Harbor followed by a round-table discussion at the Katharine Cornell Theater.

Town administrator Jay Grande, Tisbury selectmen Jeff Kristal, and Martha’s Vineyard Commission economic development and affordable housing planner Christine Flynn joined the outing.

“This designation is something that could be very important for the town and for the local community, especially local businesses,” Ms. Flynn told The Times.

As defined by the MCC, a  cultural district is “a specific geographical area in a city or town that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. It is a walkable, compact area that is easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity.”

Communities must apply to the MCC’s cultural districts program in order to be considered. To date, the program has designated 23 cultural districts throughout the state.

“It’s a fairly comprehensive process,” said Anita Walker, the MCC’s executive director. “What’s great about taking the walking tour is meeting the people involved and getting a sense of the community’s support.”

Following Thursday’s site visit, Ms. Walker said the MCC will review Vineyard Haven’s management plan, strategic goals, cultural assets, public infrastructure, and marketing plan.

A decision on the designation will be made as early as May 15.

If the Vineyard Haven plan is approved, the state will provide official signage that the town can post within the designated area. The Vineyard Haven Cultural District would have a searchable online presence among other designated districts on state-sponsored websites, and it would be included in marketing material.

The proposed cultural district would bind institutions like the Playhouse, the Bunch of Grapes, the library and the MV Film Center together with art galleries and local arts-related businesses (like designer boutiques and jewelers) into one unified area.