Cultural Districts:
  • are unique to the character, community, and resources available locally.
  • have a significant economic impact on cities, attracting businesses, tourists, and local residents to a central part of the city.
  • can help revitalize neighborhoods and increase the quality of life for its residents.
  • serve as a vehicle to assist in the support and marketing of local nonprofit cultural organizations.
  • serve as a focal point to brand a city’s unique cultural identity and embrace its historic significance.
  • sometimes have formal boundaries lines with specific zoning ordinances and economic tax incentives.
  • might have more informal, unofficial boundaries that become a focal marketing point to cluster arts organizations.

In general, most cultural districts are divided into the following types:
Cultural Compounds

The oldest districts, primarily established in cities prior to the 1930s. They were built in areas somewhat removed from the city’s central business district and have large, open green spaces between buildings. They often comprise major museums, large performing halls, theaters and auditoriums, colleges, libraries, planetariums and zoos. Example - Forest Park; St. Louis, MO

Major Cultural Institution Focus Districts

Anchored by one or two major cultural institutions, such as a large performing arts center, which then attracts smaller arts organizations around it. These districts are located close to central business districts, near convention centers or other large tourism sites. Example - The Pittsburgh Cultural District; Pittsburgh, PA

Downtown Area Focus Districts

Encompass the entire downtown area of a city. Designation is often tied to a tourism focus and common in small cities with walkable downtowns. Example - City of Cumberland Arts and Entertainment District; Cumberland, MD

Cultural Production Focus Districts

Comprised primarily of community centers, artist studios, and educational arts centers and media facilities and often exist in areas with affordable housing and commercial space. These districts create a cultural hub and enhance city livability for residents of a neighborhood rather than attracting tourists. Example - The Warehouse Arts District; Tucson, AZ

Arts and Entertainment Focus Districts

Include more popular culture and commercial attractions and include more modest size buildings with a bohemian feel. They include small theatres, movie houses, private galleries, restaurants, and other entertainment venues. Example - The District; Nashville, TN

Naturally Occurring Focus Districts

Usually are rooted in community based cultures and identities building on asset based strategies. They are holistic and are highly diverse and led by local empowered leadership. Generally they are neighborhood based and artist driven. Example - St. George; Staten Island, NY

Looking for examples of each type of Cultural District?

Download: Examples of Types of Cultural Districts (pdf, 506KB)