Branding and Marketing a Cultural District

Posted by Jessica Ferey, Feb 03, 2015 0 comments

My fascination with cultural districts first started while living in Richmond, Virginia when the city announced the creation of an Arts District within the Broad Street Corridor. As an avid “culture vulture,” I had strolled through many First Fridays Arts Walks and attended a variety of performances at the newly built CenterStage performing arts center. I was thrilled to know the city recognized the potential impact culture could have on this area. Even after leaving Richmond for Washington, D.C. to attend graduate school, I continued to stay updated on the project and would bring it up in conversation whenever I returned to visit.

Those conversations often sparked the question, “What’s an arts district?” which ignited my curiosity and inspired me to start some research. Soon, I had the opportunity to take a deeper dive into the world of cultural districts when I was asked to conduct a phone survey of cultural districts across the country for Americans for the Arts’ new National Cultural Districts Exchange project. Over the summer, I spoke with nearly fifty survey respondents about their particular arts districts. Districts ranged from those designated by state legislature to more organically grown ones created by ambitious community members. It was fascinating to hear their stories and learn about the common challenges they face.

Q: What is one of the most common challenges?

A: The importance of marketing.

In responding to questions about funding priorities, many described the need for more marketing dollars and staff. Considering that much of what happens within cultural districts is programmatic and events-based, it is important to constantly communicate to the wider community what is going on in the district. This helps to ensure more foot-traffic beyond the usual 9-5 business hours, or beyond the usual show time hours for those areas that rely on anchor cultural institutions.

A strong, recognizable, well-marketed brand is critical for the success of these cultural districts. Many of the districts surveyed have deployed substantial resources to create websites that house information about the district and promote events; some have ensured that the district is well branded with signage demarcating its entrance and boundaries; while still others have installed an information center where visitors are greeted and welcomed during events.

Speaking of fun events, quite a few districts shared examples of the types of events that take place within their districts. Hearing about them will make you want to get on a plane and go see for yourself! Here are links to a few examples:

Cultural districts are booming across the country and are definitely making a mark in their cities. Americans for the Arts has put together an invaluable toolbox for those interested in cultural districts. Be sure to check it out!

Under the “Cultural Districts Research” section, you’ll find more stories about the cultural districts surveyed over the summer, including branding and marketing strategies used in different cultural districts across the country.

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