(Article from the Harwich Chamber of Commerce magazine, 2023)
Connecting to history and sharing our culture
This year, Harwich was proud to have received designations from the state for two Cultural Districts. While there are a number of communities in Massachusetts with one Cultural District, it’s a rarity for a town to have two. It’s an honor for our town, and a sign of the true commitment to the many facets that make up Harwich. When we combine our deep Cape Verdean roots along with the arts and culture, our businesses, and our residents, we come up with a winning, vibrant community.
Much of Harwich’s history starts with our Cape Verdean community, which came to Harwich in the late 1800s. What the Cape Verdeans brought with them was a strong sense of culture, an ethic of hard work, and a tight community. Today, these traits still exist and are a foundation for why Harwich is considered “The Warm Side of the Cape.”
A few years ago, Harwich hosted a visit from President Francisco Tavares, Island of Brava Mayor, Cape Verde. He came to Harwich by the invitation of Harwich resident Albert Raneo, to build upon the relations with the Cape Verdean community. While he was here, he encouraged the community to learn about their heritage and history and to develop connections between the two countries. This connection between the two nations will broaden our understanding and
deepen our cultural activities and traditions. Both Harwich and the Cape Verdean community share the joy of the arts, music and dance, a strong work ethic that welcomed the cranberry industry, family values, and the culture of sharing and hospitality. We will continue to share with future generations this shared history.
As the town was reviewing its assets to find locations that could help enrich our culture throughout the community, a vision arose to transform and repurpose the building formerly known as Harwich Middle School. When the towns of Harwich and Chatham merged their schools into Monomoy Regional School District, the former middle school building was returned to the town. To take on the big task of repurposing the building − but always up to the challenge – was Carolyn Carey, Director of the Harwich Community Center. The goal was to create a place for artists, crafters, organizations, and visionaries to come together and share their talents with one another and with the community.
The very first artist to take on studio space was Georgene Riedl, who owns Cross Rip Gallery in Harwich Port. She showcases outstanding Cape artists at her gallery, and she needed a quiet place to work on her own art. Her studio is a former science lab, which seems appropriate as she experiments with her own artwork.
Today, within the building you will find 24 painters, 4 writers, 6 potters, 3+ photographers, a printer, a carver, a calligrapher, 5 online entrepreneurs, a gallery owner, 7 private instructors, 5 textile/jewelry makers, 2 nonprofits, 8+ makers, 5 schoolteachers, 4 college professors, and Stitchology, an after-school program where young students learn to sew.
How did we get from that initial dream to a building humming with activity and two Cultural Districts? Back in February 2018, the Massachusetts Cultural Council came to Harwich and presented to the Board of Selectmen that Harwich had been chosen as the only town in the commonwealth, along with five cities, to enter into the Cultural Compact. That was an honor in its own right, but Harwich opted to strive for more and obtain two Cultural District designations, one for Harwich Center and one for Harwich Port. The Town of Harwich, Harwich Cultural Council, Harwich Chamber of Commerce, and Massachusetts Cultural Council have now formally entered into a statewide cultural agreement. By developing these two cultural districts, the town is showing its commitment to the idea that culture is an essential element of a strong and vibrant community. Economic development goes hand and hand with cultural districts, so having two in our town is an incredible feat, defining the character of our community now and into the future.
In July 2022, the town continued to support arts and culture with the hiring of Kara Mewhinney as the Director of Cultural Affairs for Harwich. After the announcement of the two Cultural District designations, Mewhinney said, “These designations are more than just a name or location to the community, it is an understanding that they have the support to move forward so they can continue pushing arts and culture as a focal point in our economic growth.”
THE HARWICH CENTER CULTURAL DISTRICT
…in the heart of the historical hub of Harwich. The Center is home to many events, historical sites, and landmarks. The Cape Cod Rail Trail runs parallel to historic Main Street connecting the district’s valuable assets. The Harwich Center Cultural District is anchored by 204 Sisson Road (the former Harwich Middle School building), which is home to the creative community noted above, as well as the epicenter for town cultural programs and events. The Harwich Center Cultural District is home to our rich history but also other town assets such as the Harwich Mariners Baseball Team, which plays within the Cape Cod Baseball League, one of the nation’s premier collegiate summer leagues. From a deep dive into history at the Brooks Academy to learn about cranberry industry history, or a walk over to the Brooks Library to learn about local authors, Harwich Center Cultural District is the place where art and culture meet history.
THE HARWICH PORT CULTURAL DISTRICT
…is the place for all things land and sea. Harwich Port was settled by seamen and fishermen, many of whom specialized in boatmaking, sail-making, and carpentry. Harwich Port has also become a haven for a rich arts and culture scene. From live music in the Port throughout the summer, to Art in the Park, artists shacks at our Seaside Marketplace, and more, Harwich Port has all you need. The Harwich Port Cultural District has a variety of exciting restaurants, unique shops, art galleries, and more. With many scenic overlooks and quick access to beaches, it encourages you to engage with marine ecosystems and learn about the significance they have to our community. The Harwich Port Cultural District is a vibrant and robust area that has something for everyone.
These two Cultural Districts will continue elevate our community’s quality of life and help to drive the growth and opportunities through the creative economy, while honoring the things that make Harwich special. Be sure to visit both the Harwich Center Cultural District and the Harwich Port Cultural District to see so many of the wonderful things that make up Harwich.