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Designated Massachusetts Cultural Districts

Barnstable Village Cultural District, BarnstableThe old jail in Barnstable Village.
It's history revisited in the Barnstable Village Cultural District, a charming seaside village on the north side of Barnstable. A balance between colonial history and 21st century flair, the district is filled with historical buildings, quaint shops, working artist studios and galleries, locally-owned shops, musical and theater groups, and restaurants. The district is steps away from Barnstable Harbor, a spectacular backdrop with its working waterfront and panoramic views of Sandy Neck Beach and Lighthouse. From its quaint downtown to active harbor, the energy and excitement in the village is palpable year round. Visitors can learn about the harbor and beaches on an eco-tour or whale watcher tour where spotting whales along with seals and dolphins is always a treat. Step back in time on a self-guided walking tour of sea captain and patriot homes from the 1600's; meet Smithy, a working blacksmith who will share stories about the inmates at the old jail and U.S. Customs House, now home to the U.S. Coast Guard Heritage Museum. Take a guided nighttime ghost walk through the centuries-old graveyard if you dare, led by storytellers from Tales of Cape Cod; or find your genealogical history with archives dating back to colonial times at Sturgis Library, the oldest library building in the United States. A historic village with modern twist, there is plenty to do in the Barnstable Village Cultural District from community theater at Barnstable Comedy Club, outdoor concerts, lectures and gallery tours; chatting with the local potter while he creates right before your eyes, or taking part in one of several festivals. Throughout the year the district provides a full day of arts and cultural attractions, experiences, and memories.

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HyArts Cultural District, BarnstablePeople walking along the shanties.
Located in the thriving Cape Cod seaside village of Hyannis, the HyArts Cultural District provides a wide array of arts and cultural experiences, outdoor activities, shopping, and dining. Visitors can explore President John F. Kennedy’s Cape Cod roots at the JFK Hyannis Museum and the new Kennedy Legacy Trail. Learn about the Cape’s rich maritime traditions at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum and set sail on the catboat Sarah. See exhibitions of talented local artists at the Hyannis Harbor Arts Center at the Guyer Barn. Attend free concerts right on the harbor through the Citizens Bank Tuesday Night Concert series and Sunset Celebrations. Visit the Harbor Shanties to buy work from local artisans or check out any of the dozens of unique shops within the District.

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Fenway Cultural District, Boston
Courtyard of Gardner Museum at night. Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian.A walk through the Fenway Cultural District in Boston puts you at the doorstep of the world's most acclaimed cultural destinations: the Museum of Fine Arts with its new Art of the Americas wing; the incomparable Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and its new performance venue where every seat is in the front row; and Symphony Hall, home of America's favorite orchestra, the Boston Symphony. And you haven't even scratched the surface. Art and history lovers will feast on the best of American culture and still come back for more. Dine in a museum courtyard, or duck into an authentic ethnic restaurant. Other top destinations include Fenway Studios, the New England Conservatory, the Boston Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts College of Art, Simmons College, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. All are easily accessible by public transportation.

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Central Square Cultural District, Cambridge
Mural Cambridge's Central Square Cultural District is home to a mix of small, funky, independently-owned shops and creative start-ups, with larger, well-established corporations, all supported by existing cultural resources such as public art, resident artists, dynamic cultural organizations, ethnic restaurants, and leading educational institutions like Cambridge College and MIT. Central Square is home to a number of large cultural events, including Cambridge Science Festival, Cambridge River Festival, Central Square World's Fair and the City Dance Party, together drawing an annual audience to the square in excess of 500,000. Property-owners in the Square are committed to the vision of the District and support attracting new businesses that will maintain a positive balance of size, diversity and industry. The Central Square Cultural District amplifies an authentic, urban neighborhood that is constantly evolving while maintaining its core identity as a unique and eclectic place to live, work and play.

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Concord Center Cultural District, Concord
Parade of young fifers
The Concord Center Cultural District is a picturesque New England village. 18th, 19th and 20th century buildings in a National Historic District are backdrops for world-class dance, concerts and art exhibitions. Although you see a bit of history at every turn, you are invigorated by history being made today by goldsmiths handcrafting jewelry, artists creating and teaching their craft, and performers taking an evening dining experience to another level.

The first battle of the American Revolution took place in Concord on April 19, 1775. Listen to fife and drum corps from all over the nation as they march down Main Street at the annual Patriot’s Day Parade complete with marching Minutemen and historical re-enactors on horseback. The Concord Players traces its history back to 1856 and pays homage to its founder, Louisa May Alcott. Today, the Players perform at The Performing Arts Center at 51 Walden, which is also home to the Concord Band and the Concord Orchestra. And there are more than 50 resident artists at Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts that open their studios twice a year. Concord’s ArtWalk, Sizzlin’ Summer Sidewalk Sales, and Holiday Shopping Night bring Concord’s merchants, artists, and performers to the streets. Concord Center has been the hub of activity for centuries for Concord residents and visitors and remains so today.

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Cottage Street Cultural District, Easthampton
Performance at The Luthier's Co-op
Located at the base of Mount Tom, Easthampton’s Cottage Street Cultural District, known for its “down-to-earth funkiness,” has an eclectic array of quaint shops, galleries, and bustling night-life all set in the back-drop of a diverse arts scene. Enjoy a Sunday brunch and a movie with views of the Nashawannuck pond at Popcorn Noir—a cinema and restaurant that serves up movies, cocktails, theater, and live music. Next door is Platterpus, Too - known for being “what a record store used to be.” Bibliophiles and collectors head to White Square Books and Fine Art replete with carefully selected first editions and reasonably priced books. Luthier’s Co-op serves-up live bluegrass, local beers, and a wide-array of guitar strings and vintage instruments. Experience the dynamic monthly Art Walk Easthampton, a vibrant array of exhibitions, performers, and musicians held every Second Saturday. Visit Open Studios twice a year hosted by over 60 working artists in the Cottage Street Studios. Events that happen throughout the year including Art Walk and the Nash Gallery’s Plein Air Paint Out make Easthampton’s Cottage Street Cultural District a premiere artistic destination.

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Essex River Cultural District, Essex
Ship launch. Photo by Len Burgess. The Essex River Cultural District is sensible and compact, both in terms of geography and concept: this is 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 Burnham's Shipyard, the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, which houses an important collection of marine related antiquities and much of Essex's rich history, and the stunning Essex River with its salt marsh borders looking out to Hog Island and Crane Beach. Pocket parks line the street with benches for relaxing and taking in the views. The district presents a dynamic and active relationship between history and the river, not one that is frozen in the past. Residents are encouraged to get out onto the river to experience it first-hand; the shipbuilding tradition is still alive and well and the town celebrates each new launch; and early antiques share shelf space with more recent memorabilia and contemporary crafts.

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Harbortown Cultural District, Gloucester
Fitz Henry Lane Sculpture by Alfred DucaThe Harbortown Cultural District is the hub of Gloucester’s downtown and the center of the oldest seaport in New England. The harbor and its work have inspired all manner of creative artists, iconoclasts and activists for centuries and continue to draw locals and visitors. Harbortown boasts a staggering array of cultural assets, businesses, and year-round creative arts and entertainment activities. Dozens of festivals celebrate the city's diverse ethnic heritage, fishing traditions, literary giants, and contemporary arts and culture. Harbortown counts more than 35 restaurants, many of which host live music at night and feature changing art exhibits. The Cape Ann Museum is lauded as one of the finest small museums in the country. Harbortown also features the HarborWalk – an interactive public path featuring stories and images of the district’s annual St. Peter’s Fiesta, heroic fisherman Howard Blackburn, artists such as Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper, poets Charles Olson and T.S. Eliot, writers Sebastian Junger and Virginia Lee Burton, along with inventors and waterfront workers. The Walk loops by a working waterfront, past sea captain mansions, pocket parks, the seven gabled Fitz Henry Lane house, and the museums.

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Rocky Neck Cultural District, Gloucester
Artist painting plein air. Photo © Kathy Chapman 2010-2012.There's something special about the light here. Find out why artists from around the world are drawn to one of America's first artist colonies: Gloucester's Rocky Neck. Stroll through artist galleries and studios nestled on this Cape Ann peninsula. Talk to the artists and watch them work. Grab lunch on the water overlooking a working fishing harbor. Rocky Neck is one of America's oldest art colonies, supporting an impressive number of year-round working artists. The district is home to numerous galleries and restaurants as well as the critically acclaimed Gloucester Theatre Company. Venues offer a calendar of special events like Nights on the Neck and the Rocky Neck Artist Ball. A dynamic new cultural and visitor center is also in the works.

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Riverfront Cultural District, HaverhillFamily enjoying River Ruckus Festival
Creative minds from the past and present collide in Haverhill’s Riverfront Cultural District. Murals painted by local artists adorn the sides of historic brick buildings famous for their elaborate Queen Anne style brickwork. Giant reproductions of 19th century shoes and a shoe-worker’s memorial give a nod to Haverhill’s shoe-making past, while showcasing the unique designs of local working artists and students. Easily accessible by train, bus, car, or boat, the Riverfront Cultural District has something for everyone to enjoy. With such a large concentration of creative minds living and working in the district, you’re sure to stumble upon a painting or music lesson, or even an impromptu theater performance in this welcoming art community. The Riverfront Cultural District is home to both large and small annual events including the River Ruckus Festival, the Christmas Stroll, National Holiday Concerts, the Haverhill Experimental Film Festival, and the Haverhill Chamber’s Buy Local initiative, which encourages the support of local small businesses. Haverhill’s Riverfront Cultural District is alive and growing, with new shops and businesses cropping up at every turn and more and more visitors discovering all that Haverhill has to offer.

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Lowell’s Canalway District, Lowell
Fiddler performing
How many urban landscapes offer both whitewater rafting and Smithsonian-affiliate museums right in their downtown? Lowell’s Canalway Cultural District offers both, along with a thriving arts community. Lowell National Historical Park, Whistler House Museum of Art, Angkor Dance Troupe, and Merrimack Repertory Theatre are just a few examples of the city’s flourishing creative network. With seven large-scale annual festivals, a wide variety of performance spaces, hundreds of concerts per year, innovative creative spaces for making and exhibiting artwork including The Arts League of Lowell, Brush Art Gallery and Studios, and unchARTed, and more than nine countries of cuisine in three city blocks, Lowell is the premier entertainment city of the Merrimack Valley.

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Central Exchange Cultural District, Lynn
Girls peering into a storefront window at Central SCARE! haunted house
The core of this city may be one of Massachusetts' best-kept secrets -- a fusion of contemporary artists and multicultural cuisine and the authentic bricks and mortar of a city steeped in a history at the forefront of America's industrial history. Mingle with the artists and entrepreneurs who are drawn to the myriad of street activities, performances, and museums. Lynn's Central Exchange Cultural District includes historic museums, multiple performance spaces (like LynnArts' Neal Rantoul Black Box Theater), galleries like RAW showcasing young artists, numerous artist studios, WFNX Radio, ethnic restaurants and marketplaces reflecting the city's diverse population, and a resurgence of new restaurants like the Turbine Wine Bar.

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Marlborough Downtown Village Cultural District, Marlborough
Shoe Workers Statue
The Marlborough Downtown Village Cultural District—referred to as the "cultural heart" of the city--is an architecturally attractive, ethnically diverse, and inviting area that is easily accessible by bus, car, bike, and foot. The downtown's cultural assets are enjoyed by residents from all parts of the city, and cultural stakeholders have endeavored to increase Downtown Marlborough's profile across the region and further expand upon its natural assets. Most notable to the cityscape are the many steeples and spires of City Hall and area churches that characterize a skyline which has remained visually unaltered since their construction. Marlborough Downtown Village, Olde Marlborough and Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce are three groups that promote the arts, history, and creative economy within the City and the region. It is comprised predominantly of service-related businesses, including a robust selection of restaurants representing a variety of cuisines, barber shops, CPAs, law offices, and printing companies. Marlborough's Cultural District encompasses the building blocks to a blossoming cultural district in ways that are authentic to the city.

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Natick Center Cultural District, Natick
Outdoor performance for kids
The Natick Center Cultural District’s majestic, late 19th-century, “neo-gothic” architecture serves as a visually impressive historic platform for the district’s numerous cultural offerings and its cultural anchors – The Center for Arts in Natick (TCAN) and the municipally-owned Morse Institute Library. Another key destination within the cultural district is the town common. Quintessentially New England, with its ample green space and wooden gazebo, the common provides an ideal stage for a busy calendar of free public concerts and festivals. The district is a culmination of over a decade of historic preservation and public and private investment in the town center’s streetscape and façade improvements, and cultural facilities. In 2003, TCAN opened its doors, following an impassioned rescue mission by a group of local citizens and the thoughtful restoration of Natick’s historic (c. 1875) Central Fire Station on Summer Street – into the premier performing arts center in the Metrowest area. TCAN has drawn nearly 20,000 attendees to its 300 performances, classes, lectures, film programs, and art exhibitions during the past year. The district is home to over 100 working artists and dozens of independently owned businesses, and events such as the yearly Natick Open Studios, the Art Walk, and historic walking tours knit together its many activities. And, just steps away from the Common, the world-renowned Walnut Hill School for the Arts brings artists from all over the world to Natick, and down to Main Street to perform in the heart of this wonderful little town.

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Seaport Cultural District, New BedfordNew Bedford Whaling Museum
Located along the working waterfront in downtown New Bedford, the Seaport Cultural District boasts historic charm, inspiration, and dynamic creativity inside and out. Cobblestone streets lead to the New Bedford Whaling National Park and the Whaling Museum, the Underground Railroad, and the legendary white whale, which inspired Herman Melville to sail from New Bedford and write Moby Dick. Learn more about the famous orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass by visiting the Nathan and Polly Johnson House, Douglass’s first free home after he escaped slavery. Peppered with art galleries and art studios, the Seaport Cultural District stands out for its appreciation of the arts: from AHA!, a year round free monthly celebration of Art, History, and Architecture, to the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, also known as “The Z,” which comes alive with spectacular performances night after night and is home to New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, New Bedford Festival Theatre, New Bedford Ballet, and Southcoast Children’s Theatre. The New Bedford Art Museum showcases local Southcoast talent and is home to ArtWorks! The warmer months bring the arts outdoors. Festivals along the pier and throughout the district celebrate the multicultural heritage as well as creative present of the city including the Folk Festival, Jazz Festival, Taste of Southcoast, Wine Festival, Working Waterfront Festival, Oktoberfest, and the Summer Sound Series. In all, the New Bedford’s Seaport Cultural District contains 49 cultural attractions, 29 creative economy businesses and is just one hour from Boston, and 30 minutes from Cape Cod, Plymouth, Providence and Newport.

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Newburyport Cultural District, Newburyport
Visitors entering the Maritime Museum
Located on the Merrimack River, the Downtown Newburyport Cultural District is a charming, old-fashioned historical area offering an eclectic blend of arts, entertainment, dining, shopping, and cultural experiences. Newburyport affords residents and visitors alike a taste of history with its Colonial-era architecture, as well as its contemporary art, along the boardwalk. Widely known as the birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard, Newburyport is rich in maritime history, as anyone who has taken a walking tour along the Clipper Heritage Trail will tell you. Craving more historical fare? Stop by the Custom House Maritime Museum to learn about Newburyport's ship-building past. Want to satisfy your thirst for local art? Mosey on down the street to the Newburyport Art Association where there are more than a few artists offering and showcasing their finest work. Want something totally different altogether? The Tannery Marketplace is the perfect locale for many unique and independently-owned gift stores, bakeries, bookstores, and The Actors Studio, a small, cozy theater. A testament to the well-planned urban landscape in Newburyport, visitors can easily follow the district along Liberty Street with its many shops to State Street, the heart of the district. There awaits the fine dining, art galleries, and shopping that individuals from all over New England have come to know and love.

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Paradise City Cultural District, NorthamptonStreet Festival in Northampton
Northampton is a great town for walking. Strolling along Elm Street, shaded by burgeoning elms and maples past classic New England architecture, your steps lead you to the world class collection at the Smith Museum of Art. Further on, you find the historic Academy of Music, where Bogie holds court in the lobby and the latest in film, dance, theater and more are presented onstage. Now you're at the upper end of Main Street, a wide boulevard offering a gauntlet of beguilement. Maybe it's an Arts Night Out, or maybe there's a show at the Horse or the Calvin. You keep walking, heading down Main, and craft shop demands a bit of window shopping, and that gallery demands a thoughtful pause, and the aroma drifting out of that restaurant stops you in your tracks. You finally pass under the railroad bridge and bikeway, perhaps pay a visit to Historic Northampton, but you're out of the clutches of Main Street, headed toward the Three County Fairgrounds. Maybe it's fair time, and you're wondering about a go on the Scrambler, or maybe it's time for the Paradise City Arts Festival and you're wandering through a maze of some of the finest crafts in America. Either way, take a look around and you see a highway in the distance, cars roaring along, and you think to yourself, "Those guys missed this exit."

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Orleans Village Center Cultural District, Orleans
Pops in the Park Anchored by the Old Firehouse and Parish Park, the Orleans Village Center Cultural District is a walkable network of attractions starting with Theresa’s Way and extending through a necklace of pocket parks, public spaces, greenbelts, and vistas. Maritime heritage meets modern hospitality, art galleries and boutiques line the pathways, and iconic shops are around every corner. History lives on in Orleans—in the Federated church dating to 1639, militia encampments celebrating the Battle of Rock Harbor from the War of 1812, and in “pulling boats” re-enacting the Cape’s first canal through Jeremiah’s Gutter. Catboats flourish on Town Cove and Pleasant Bay, sailing out of Orleans Yacht Club, Namequoit Sailing Association, and Nauset Marine, supported by wooden boat-builders such as Arey’s Pond Boat Yard and Pleasant Bay Boat and Spar. Performing arts, entertainment, lifetime learning, and countless recreational opportunities beckon year-round at the Academy Playhouse and School. And community celebrations abound, including “Spring into Summer” in May, Orleans Heritage Month in August—which culminates with a performance by the Orleans Pops featuring the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, “Celebrate Our Waters” in September, Ukulele Cabaret and Plein Air painters during “Capture the Cape,” in October, and much more.

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Upstreet Cultural District, Pittsfield
interior of Colonial Theatre
How do you decide among the 50 restaurants, wine bars, and cafes that populate the Upstreet Cultural District? A calendar chock full of events and celebrations that regularly fill the street with vendors and artists that will tempt your aesthetic and culinary taste buds. This vibrant district will lure you into its amazing theater scene and to its family-friendly Berkshire Museum. Upstreet is home to dozens of visual, performing, and literary artists and numerous cultural institutions, including the Barrington Stage Company and its Musical Theatre Lab, the Hancock Shaker Village, and the beautifully restored Colonial Theatre. The district also boasts a number of locally-run retail shops, art galleries, a diverse selection of ethnic restaurants, and a year-round calendar of events and celebrations like 3rd Thursdays and the WordXWord Festival.

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Rockport Cultural District, Rockport
A concert at Rockport Music. Photo by Michael Lutch for Rockport Music.
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. Shop in more than 40 art galleries. Grab a cup of coffee while watching the waves. 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.

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Glass Town Cultural District, Sandwich
Glass Museum
Sandwich's Glass Town Cultural District focuses on the village center, with the Sandwich Glass Museum serving as the focal point – a lens to tell the story of Glass Town. Whether photographing the picturesque Shawme Pond, watching live glass-blowing, or learning about our nation's colonial history, visitors may easily spend a week in Sandwich and still have sites to enjoy. Recent restoration work on the historic Town Hall has reopened the upstairs theater space. The Dexter Grist Mill & Hoxie House was recently restored to capture life in the 1600s. The Sandwich Public Library houses the town's historic archives and offers cultural programming for various age groups. Historic inns, private residences, four architecturally significant church buildings, restaurants and shops are located in the district. Outdoor juried artisan shows, an antique market, and an annual Street Fair with a Best Sandwich in Sandwich Competition take place yearly. There are two art galleries and a small community of working artists and a great response to the recent revival of community theater productions. The focus on "Glass Town" connects the town's history with its present, and weaves together both art and industry. This is not your "typical Cape town" – there is something different here, rooted in history but continuing in the present day; a heritage connecting artisanship and innovation; a sense of place that celebrates the beauty of a natural setting while calling attention to the ways it has been shaped by the hands of people.

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Shelburne Falls Cultural District, Shelburne Falls
Bridge of Flowers sign
This rural pairing of two villages – Shelburne and Buckland – on either side of the Deerfield River joined by an historic iron bridge is a delightful surprise. Honored as one of the “100 Best Small Art Towns in America” the towns are recognized as a nationally desirable cultural destination. Shelburne Falls gets it all right – preserving its historic, small town character while being open to the best of modern life. It is a village with a thriving cultural community nestled in the heart of farms and country roads. Enjoy world class opera in Memorial Hall’s 1898 Met Live series. Visit eclectic art and crafts galleries and studios throughout the village. Enjoy the ambience of Mocha Maya’s Coffee House offering live music year-round. The Bridge of Flowers, once a busy trolley bridge, is now a world famous garden. Visit the trolley museum, the candlepin museum, or the curious geological potholes. Linger in local eateries. Fun family-friendly fairs and festivals throughout the year celebrate the arts, culture, and nature of Shelburne Falls and the surrounding hill towns.

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Springfield Central Cultural District, Springfield
Family taking photos on a Dr. Suess sculpture in the quadrangle at the Springfield Museums Often called the “City of Firsts,” Springfield has been an epicenter of innovation, free enterprise, and ingenuity for well over 300 years. A veritable hotbed of progress, Springfield is home to some of the most notable and all-American industrial organizations in our nation's history, including the first gasoline-powered car made by the Duryea Brothers, as well as the Indian Motorcycle company. Additionally, it is also the place where a beloved literary tradition for many families across the nation started; Springfield is renowned as the birthplace of the celebrated children's author Dr. Seuss. Even more incredibly, the popular sport of basketball was created in Springfield in 1891 by a doctor from Springfield College. Downtown Springfield is host to just about all of the region's major arts venues, such as the Springfield Museums and Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, MassMutual Center, Springfield Symphony Orchestra, CityStage, and the Community Music School. Throughout the District, visitors find themselves encircled by a medley of other historic landmarks and arts attractions, including the Old First Church - a key stop on the African American Freedom Trail, the Pan African Historical Museum, and 1350 Main Gallery/Studio 9. The District also boasts architecturally-significant buildings (including a plethora of Victorian-era “Painted Lady” mansions,) listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as public art installations, and the majestic Court Square Park which is surrounded by ornate architecture and the iconic Beaux-Arts Municipal Group. Springfield offers an attractive and vibrant nightlife scene, with clubs, pubs, and watering holes that offer music and entertainment where local artists, citizens, and visitors alike can relax and unwind together in a casual, arts-friendly atmosphere. As a result, there is a cornucopia of dining opportunities and restaurants in the area. Springfield is also host to a vast assortment of annual festivals and events that showcase the breadth of its artistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Such events include the Mattoon Street Arts Festival, Hispanic Heritage Month Festivities, Stearns Square Concerts, and the Star-Spangled Springfield July 4 Celebration.

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