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With a total of four state-designated cultural districts already in place, Cape Ann ranks as one of the premier destinations for the traveler with a particular interest in art and cultural attractions.

Whether it is the visual or performing arts, festivals celebrating Cape Ann’s rich maritime and artistic heritage, or historic homes and landmarks, Cape Ann has it all in abundance. The Rockport Cultural District and Gloucester’s Rocky Neck Cultural District were among the first five districts to be approved by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) in March 2012, while the Essex River Cultural District was approved on October 12, 2012. Meanwhile, the Gloucester City Council unanimously endorsed a second cultural district and the Gloucester Harbortown

Cultural District was approved by the MCC in April of 2013, making Gloucester the first city in Massachusetts to have two cultural districts.

Here is how the MCC describes the Rockport Cultural District: “From the tip of Bearskin Neck and the iconic Motif #1, to Rockport Music’s world-class Shalin Liu Performance Center with its stage overlooking the Atlantic, you’ll have a once in a lifetime experience in Rockport… Find out why international visitors make this a regular destination. Rockport’s district boasts over 40 individual artist galleries and studios, as well as cultural institutions like the Rockport Art Association, one of the oldest active art associations in the nation.”

The Rockport district is made up of a diverse group of partners that include art galleries, artistic and performance venues, historic associations, museums, churches, libraries, and retailers. It is compact and easy to walk, spanning about 1.2 miles from end to end in downtown Rockport, and encompassing scores of shops, galleries, historic churches, and cultural venues.

The Essex River Cultural District is located in the heart of Essex along scenic Route 133, where “the town meets the river.” The district “meanders past ancient burial grounds, active shipyards and marinas, bustling restaurants, antique shops and galleries. The district offers vistas of Harold Burnham’s Shipyard, the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum as well as the stunning Essex River with its salt marsh borders looking out to Hog Island and Crane Beach.”

Artists and visitors from around the world are still drawn to one of America’s first artist colonies: Gloucester’s Rocky Neck. Located in East Gloucester and wrapped around scenic Smith Cove, the Rocky Neck Cultural District is filled with artist galleries and studios and a great restaurant and music scene. Enjoy lunch or dinner on a deck overlooking the Cove filled with boats of all shapes and sizes. Rocky Neck is home to many year round working artists as well as the critically acclaimed Gloucester Stage Company at the Gorton Theatre on East Main Street. Just across the Cove from Rocky Neck is the North Shore Arts Association, founded in

1922. Be sure to visit the new Rocky Neck Cultural Center, home of the Rocky Neck Art Colony, with a year round schedule of art exhibitions, workshops and events.

Both the bustling working waterfront and a wide array of cultural, artistic, historic and business assets and activities fill the newest Cape Ann cultural district, Gloucester’s Harbortown Cultural District. It incorporates the well-marked HarborWalk trail with its 42 stops highlighting the long and rich history of this waterfront neighborhood that has attracted painters, writers and visitors for more than two centuries.

The Harbortown district also includes the Maritime Gloucester museum and educational center at the edge of the water and loops up to the magnificently restored 1871 City Hall, which contains a carefully restored set of WPA (Works Progress Administration) murals, the world-class Cape Ann Museum, which focuses on this area’s rich art and culture, a distinguished public library and a street lined with historic houses, a synagogue and churches that end at the city’s first Town Hall and a large bronze statue of Joan of Arc mounted on a horse.

The district’s walkable boundaries enclose the thriving downtown residential and business district. Within it are art galleries, studios and a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Year-round street festivals, music events and other day and night time activities draw visitors and local people. They are all welcomed by the merchants, who endorse and support the district.

With these four inspiring and impressive cultural districts already in place, Cape Ann can truly be considered Massachusetts’ Cultural Coast, well worth a visit for art lovers of all ages and tastes. Come experience the Cape Ann arts scene, and be sure to give yourself plenty of time to linger and embrace it all.