September 13, 2022
Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, Maryland: State Cultural Districts
Cultural districts can be an invaluable tool for states seeking to promote economic and community development. NASAA often receives information requests about the variety of strategies that leverage the economic strengths of the arts in cultural districts and the practical policies enacted that make them work. The following examples of state-led cultural districts highlight the newest cultural district program to be created—in Nebraska—and explore different funding and program mechanisms across state arts agencies.
The Creative District program at the Nebraska Arts Council (NAC) was established via legislation in 2020, became active in 2021 and now boasts three districts. Additional legislation was passed in 2020 and 2021 to provide funding sources for the districts, which include Support the Arts license plates, dedicated sales tax revenue for creative districts in “first-class cities” and a one-time appropriation of $2 million for the first two years of the program.
Nebraska’s creative districts are certified for five years through a process in which local government, in partnership with at least two other organizations, submit a letter of interest and verify their eligibility. To be eligible, applicants must:
- have a current operating budget of $10,000
- submit three letters showing evidence of community support
- produce a cultural asset survey or inventory and provide a map of the proposed district boundaries
- draft a strategic plan for the district
Certified creative districts are granted an initial nonmatching $10,000 to support development. Districts are also eligible for the Creative District Development Grant, which offers awards up to $250,000 for programming, infrastructure, marketing and operating support. To learn more about the Nebraska Arts Council’s Creative District program, contact NAC Program Specialist Rachel Morgan.
Since 2005, the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) has led a statewide Cultural Districts Program that is currently comprised of a roster of 51 cultural districts. Nonprofit arts organizations, local arts agencies, government agencies and college arts institutions are all able to apply for designation, which certifies their self-defined region as a cultural district for 10 years. Successful applicants are then eligible for TCA’s Arts Respond – Cultural District Project grant. Nonprofit organizations within the cultural district’s boundaries are also eligible for the grant, which awards $3,000 to $250,000 for arts programming, infrastructure, marketing and operating support. Recent funding of the grant has been supported by a dedicated appropriation of $5 million per year from the state’s general revenue fund. In 2017 the Texas Cultural Trust commissioned an impact study of TCA’s cultural district grant awards. The report revealed significant tourism visitation as well as economic impacts (direct, indirect and induced) from four case study districts. Find out more from TCA Program Administrator Ernest Luna.
Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) currently has 30 creative districts certified across Colorado. To be eligible, nonprofit organizations, local neighborhood organizations or government agencies must complete one of two prerequisite programs: Rural Technical Assistance Program Creativity Lab or Call Yourself Creative Program. Districts are certified for five years and are granted a one-time cash award of $10,000, which must be matched. Creative districts also become eligible for annual project and general operating support grants up to $10,000. Both grants are funded through the agency’s yearly general appropriation. For more information, contact CCI Program Manager Christine Costello.
The Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) Arts & Entertainment Districts span 29 distinct neighborhoods in Maryland. Counties and municipal governments are eligible to apply for a 10-year designation, which opens up property, artist income, and admissions and amusement tax incentives for individuals and organizations within the district. Districts are also eligible for up to $10,000 in development and technical support through the Network Organizational Development grant and up to $15,000 in general operating support through District Operating Support grant. Similar to Colorado, funding for the grant programs comes from MSAC’s yearly general grant appropriations. To learn more, contact MSAC Program Director David D. Mitchell.
Beyond Nebraska, Texas, Colorado and Maryland, 13 other states run cultural district programs with a variety of funding mechanisms, tax incentives, district certification processes and program structures. For more on the depth of cultural districts and the strength of creative placemaking at state arts agencies, contact NASAA Research Associate Ryan Stubbs.
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