Boston, MA

Contact Name
Larry Lindner
Project Dates
August 19th, 2014 through August 18th, 2019, and (we hope) beyond)
Tags
Networking, Marketing
Readings, signings, poetry slams, conferences, symposia, walking tours, book festivals, performances of literary works...in this, the first official literary cultural district in the country, we now have a unique opportunity to harness the work of the many literary organizations clustered together in downtown Boston that are contributing to the city's literary renaissance. With an intentional, coherent approach to our collective work, improved signage, and partnerships with hotels and restaurants, we can create more vibrant programming that will bring more people to "interact with" the written word and thereby increase local book sales and attract more philanthropic funding and (we hope) writers and publishing entrepreneurs. That is, all things literary in Boston will become more "visible.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The goal is to shed light on Boston as the hub of literary activity that it is and thereby make it an economically friendlier place for literary artists and those involved in bringing literary works to light. Boston has a very active literary scene that has been going under-recognized. People associate Boston with history but not as a home for those involved in the literary arts or those interested in literary pursuits. The creation of the Literary Cultural District should help in defining the city as a beacon of contemporary literary pursuit. Boston: Common, Red Sox, Cream Pie, Baked Beans, Literary District.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The Lit District is only a couple of months old. We are still feeling our way into the mission and have not changed any goals as of yet.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
There are currently eight executive partners:
City of Boston: The State mandates that it's a municipality that must apply for cultural district status. Technically speaking, the Lit District is the City's.
GrubStreet: Managing Executive Partner.
Boston Public Library
Boston Athenaeum
Boston Book Festival
Emerson College
Suffolk University
The Drum (an audio-literary magazine)

There are also about three dozen associate partners (see website) that range from literary organizations to neighborhood civic groups.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The cultural districts initiative instituted by Massachusetts a few years ago is designed to help cities and towns enhance their economic activity by drawing people in by pointing to the municipality's cultural assets. The Commonwealth currently has 26 cultural districts spread throughout the state. The Literary District is the first "themed" district -- the first district to focus solely on one artistic discipline.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
It was a combination of the Massachusetts Cultural Council starting the cultural districts initiative and the fact that the visual arts get the lion's share of attention (and funding) that led various leaders in the literary arts to seek to create a strictly literary district. This is a unique endeavor born, in part, out of frustration about a lack of attention to the literary arts scene in Boston.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
There are many steps involved in getting a cultural district designation in Massachusetts. The executive partners first hired a half-time coordinator to handle the application process. They then reached out to literary groups across the city to explain the project, hear ideas, and incorporate them in the application to the state. Committees were formed by self-selected individuals: mapping committee, branding and marketing committee, and so on. The City Councilors had to hold a public hearing, and a letter of endorsement from the Mayor was mandated. The City Councilors also had to vote to go forward with the application to the Massachusetts Cultural Council. (They voted unanimously.) There was a lot of relationship-building with hotels and restaurants, too, as well as with tourist agencies. And there was full cooperation with an interested press. It's an arduous process that we completed in what is considered breakneck speed: 9 months.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
We received the designation in August of 2014 and launched in October. We are now turning to programming to insure that the Literary District remains vibrant -- and relevant.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
1. Dealing with City Hall, accepting that priorities differ from one organization to another and that what might be a critical deadline for you might not be for a partner institution or agency. It wasn't a matter of having difficulty getting buy-in -- more the hurdle of logistics to get the necessary paperwork and other work done from partnering organizations.

2. Getting input from many, many different people. It can seem overwhelming at times to have so many opinions about what's important at the same table -- how to decide on the boundaries of the District, what to include as the important historical literary sites, etc.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
1. Relationship-building was critical. If you can create a good relationship with people who are in touch with the people you need to sign off on things, give the nod, you'll have a much easier time reaching your goals in a timely manner.

2. Accepting that there will be miscommunications, glitches in the process. You have to accept that it's PART of the work rather than an impediment per se.

3. Listening. it's easy to know what you think, what you yourself want. There's an art in listening to other people to learn where they're coming from, what they need to make it easier for them to cooperate.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Let the process start out messy. Solicit and accept everyone's input with interest and respect. If people feel heard, they will be happy to buy in, even if their particular idea doesn't become part of the final plan.

2. Don't be afraid to approach businesses with money to partner with you on your non-profit artistic project. Invite them to the table, have coffee with them. Then, when the time comes, you'll be in a good position to go for the "ask." Not all money has to come from grants. Some can come from area for-profit enterprises.

3. Stay calm, take a breath. If you have something good, it will happen.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
The Boston Literary District is too new to have had a major impact. But already groups that had no idea of each other's existence are starting to talk to each other. Mass Poetry is approaching stores to see about hanging verses of poetry in their windows during Poetry Week. Emerson College and Suffolk University will be collaborating on placemaking in the District via artistic installations that point to literary pursuits or literary history. Hotels are considering offering literary "packages" to patrons. One restaurant offered literary-themed dishes during ArtWeek Boston: a Poe Boy sandwich, Melville Catch, etc.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We were able to get the Literary District designation in less than a year -- soon than anticipated. We contracted with a designer to develop a logo and website and have them "up and running." We have gotten a good deal of press (including in international publications). The goal going forward will be to keep programming exciting.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We are in the process of developing a set of benchmark data by which to gauge success; visits to the website, attendance of events, the number of people who pick up a physical calendar.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Fair to say that everyone involved got to know so many others in the literary arts who they wouldn't have otherwise come across. A feeling has already developed that there's a "community" here.