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Encouraging Arts & Economic Vitality

July 14, 2022

To support the arts and retail vibrancy of Cambridge, the City collaborated with other community partners on on providing arts and small business grants and a variety of workshops for entrepreneurs, and also launched Cambridge Plays, a series of outdoor music, arts, and play events in commercial districts and parks. See FY22 highlights below:

Retail Strategic Plan recommendations continued to be implemented in FY22 to develop best practice policies and programs that support and enhance Cambridge’s retail environment.

The Vacant Storefront Initiative Creative Design Contest engaged local artists to help energize commercial districts by filling empty storefront windows with reproductions of locally-made art. Artists receive a one-time honorarium.

Tourism, Economic Development and Arts Committee. City departments continue to partner with Cambridge Office for Tourism and Cambridge Arts Council to support arts, tourism, and economic opportunity. In FY22, the group collaborated on online and social media promotions for small businesses; Open Studios Creative Marketplace; and Cambridge Plays, a series of outdoor music, arts, and play events in commercial districts and parks.

Food Business Programs – Supporting Equitable Growth. The Food Business Incubator and Food Truck programs help Cambridge food entrepreneurs strengthen and grow their business through low- or no-cost opportunities. In FY22, the Food Business Incubator Program organized workshops for food entrepreneurs, including a Cottage Food Permit Information session, and the relaunch of the City’s Food Truck Program. Cambridge put the regulatory framework in place in FY22 to issue cottage food operation permits that allow people to make food in a home kitchen and sell directly to consumers. This measure supports the broader work to reduce barriers to food business entrepreneurs and foster community connections around food.

In FY22, the newly established Cambridge Black, Indigenous, People of Color-Owned (BIPOC) Business Advisory Committee supported women- and minority-owned businesses through several initiatives, including procurement training; skill building workshops; and supplemental marketing efforts for Cambridge businesses, such as celebrating National Black Business Month in August 2021 and National Women’s Business Month in October 2021. The 2022 version of the Diversity Directory, which was converted to an interactive website, includes an online searchable database that allows users to find a business based on ownership or business type. As of May 2022, the Directory has 122 active entries and is updated daily.

Cannabis Business Permit. The first retail cannabis business in Cambridge opened in spring 2022 in Central Square. In FY22, Economic Development staff continued interdepartmental work on reviewing and issuing Cannabis Business Permits. By May 2022, seven Economic Empowerment applicants executed Host Community Agreements with the City of Cambridge, with 6 of them in possession of a Cannabis Business Permit from the City. Three applicants filing as a Woman- or Minority-owned business started their application process.

Small Business Challenge program grants of up to $7,000 continue to invigorate commercial districts. In FY22, projects receiving grants included a digital holiday shopping guide, holiday stroll promotion, small business incubator support, and mural and commercial signage improvements.

Storefront Improvement, Retail Interior Accessibility, and Small Business Enhancement. In FY22, it is anticipated that 27 small business grants will be awarded to local businesses. Approximately 255 participants attended small business workshops or received technical assistance and 14 businesses contracted for storefront improvement grants.

2022 Cambridge Arts River Festival/Ripple Festival. In 2022, Cambridge Arts again transitioned the annual Cambridge Arts River Festival to a virtual Ripple Festival, a series of smaller in-person performances and arts markets rippling out into Cambridge neighborhoods. This year-long series of events builds on the Stream Festival, a virtual version of the River Festival that Cambridge Arts presented during the first two years of the pandemic. Ripple Festival events celebrate the arts, employ local artists and bring us together, while maintaining smaller audiences and other COVID-19 safety precautions.

Each year, the City of Cambridge contributes substantial funding to support local artists, cultural workers, and arts organizations through the Cambridge Arts Grant Program. This support is coupled with funding received through the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s statewide Local Cultural Council Program. In FY22, Cambridge Arts distributed approximately $300,000 to support local cultural organizations, arts projects presenting themes about social justice, and project-based programs in a variety of art practices, ticket subsidies, cultural field trips for youth, public art, and creative placemaking/keeping, and other creative activities.

Cambridge Arts joined the City of Cambridge and Cambridge Community Foundation to continue implementing the Cultural Capital Fund to address urgent needs in the local arts and culture sector due to impacts from the pandemic. The partnership is committed to building an endowment for the arts and culture sector, targeting $5 million over a five-year period, to increase resilience within the sector and better support and protect the City’s cultural richness. The Cultural Capital Fund provides grants to local arts organizations of up to $25,000 for capital needs and improvements, and up to $10,000 to support both established and emerging organizations in managing operational needs and to implement programming.

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