NEW BEDFORD — If you think New Bedford is known only for its massive fishing fleet, think again. The Whaling City also has a reputation as a center for arts and culture.

Local arts stakeholders and city officials announced a formal cultural relationship on Thursday, which aims to connect the local government with cultural leaders in the city.

The new bond ties the New Bedford Seaport Cultural Council, New Bedford Cultural District, and the City of New Bedford with the Mass Cultural Council as they participate in its new Cultural Compact pilot program. The Mass Cultural Council's program seeks to develop a framework fostering creative partnerships between local government and cultural leaders throughout New Bedford.

The Cultural Compact is intended to increase and expand collaboration and partnership in the cities of Massachusetts. The Mass Cultural Council plans to provide technical assistance through webinars, podcasts, meetings, training, and workshops. Some of the Cultural and Seaport Council agreements include developing programs for increased art sustainability, updating and modernizing the public art inventory, increasing the promotion of current arts, music and cultural programming, and developing online resources for performers to access city and private venues.

New Bedford is one of six pilot communities in Massachusetts selected to participate in the program, a program that Executive Director of the Mass Cultural Council Anita Walker says is a “brand new initiative.”

“We were thinking at the Mass Cultural Council about how we could really institutionalize and bring together the great work of our cultural community with the ambitions and aspirations of the elected leadership of our cities and towns across the commonwealth,” explained Walker. “We didn't ask communities to apply to become pilots in the Cultural Compact Initiative, we picked six communities to become our partners in learning, and in this pilot of the Cultural Compact Initiative we picked New Bedford.”

The Whaling City isn't new to having its arts culture shown off to the state. In 2017, the Mass Cultural Council honored New Bedford by naming it the most creative community in the state, and presented a Commonwealth Award for “providing sustained leadership, funding, and infrastructure to the places where art and culture are presented, and where artists live and work, providing a model for cities everywhere.”

The city's reputation has also grown in recent years as a regional center for arts and as a creative and inviting place for all types of artists. New Bedford was also ranked the “Seventh Most Artistic City” by Atlantic Monthly, ranked ninth on the Matador Network's list of Most Creative Towns, and sixth on Bustle's Best Cities for Young Artists.

Rick Kidder is the co-chairman of the Executive Committee of Seaport Cultural District. During the event, Kidder raved about the benefits a strong art culture can have on a city, saying, “Arts and culture are the cornerstones of our civilized society and a primary differentiator.”

"Support for arts and culture is an investment in community greatness. It's something that makes a community great and different from others,” said Kidder. “It's an investment in economic development, it's an investment in workforce attraction, it's an investment in business attraction. It makes this place a better place.”

Tim Dunn/TSM