By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Local and state officials joined cultural and tourism leaders from Newburyport to Methuen at Haverhill’s Winnekenni Castle yesterday to announce and celebrate the recipients of this year’s state cultural grants.
Newburyport was the big winner, receiving $4,250 for its cultural council; $2,500 for The Firehouse Center for the Arts; $2,500 for the Newburyport Literary Festival; $3,500 for On Stage Inc.; and $2,500 to A Far Cry Inc.
Haverhill landed $20,000 for its cultural council and the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce received $10,000 for a project aimed at teaching nonprofits to raise their own money so they aren’t dependent on state subsidies.
The event at the 700-acre Winnekenni park was part of a public hearing and listening tour by the Legislature’s Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.
Attendees that packed the castle included the mayors of Haverhill, Newburyport and Amesbury as well as elected officials, artists and cultural leaders from the North of Boston region.
Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday joined Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini in asking the state to help pay for a passenger boat that would travel the Merrimack River between the two communities.
“A boat from Haverhill to Newburyport would work, but it needs a short-term subsidy at first,” Fiorentini said.
Holaday called for more cultural funding for school districts. She said schools in Newburyport and other communities have been decimated by cuts to arts and music programs.
“How are we going to bring up our next musicians, artists and dancers when we are wiping out the arts in schools?” Holaday asked the committee.
The committee spent the morning at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall before going to Winnekenni Park. The committee, which is co-chaired by state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, was scheduled to visit historical and cultural locations in Salisbury, Amesbury and Newburyport later in the day.
”Winnekenni Castle is one of the gems of the Merrimack Valley,” O’Connor Ives said. “I don’t think enough people know about these gems.”
O’Connor Ives said her Statehouse committee was visiting cultural venues in her district to get “a taste and flavor of what the Merrimack Valley has to offer in the area of arts, culture and tourism.”
The senator said an important of the tour was to bring local cultural leaders together to create networking opportunities.
“We want to hear about their challenges and strategies and their successes,” she said. “And to get ideas for helping our cities and towns to use state funding to boost local economies and create economic development.”
A press release put out by the Statehouse committee said the Legislature increased funding to the state’s 16 regional tourism councils by $1.5 million to $7.5 million this year.
Ann Marie Casey, director of the North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, said tourism in the region generates $38.8 million in state tax and $19.3 in local tax.
“This industry is a tremendous economic generator, and we are pleased to showcase our offerings to all officials attending this important tour,” Casey said. “We are a great investment.”
Cultural councils in Haverhill, Methuen, North Andover, Newburyport, Salisbury Amesbury and Merrimac shared a total of $58,000 in grants, O’Connor Ives said. The council’s decide where and how to spend the money, O’Connor Ives said.
“I am excited to explore the history and art of northern Essex County,” said state Rep. Corey Atkins, the committee’s other chairman. “The maritime legacy of the Newburyport area and the industrial legacy of the Haverhill area have made indelible impressions on the Commonwealth and the nation, and I look forward to supporting the future vitality of the region.”
Not everyone was happy with the committee’s payouts, however.
Timothy Coco of Haverhill, who runs a local advertising agency and helped develop the Haverhill chamber of commerce grant for Creative Haverhill, said the group asked for and needed $50,000 for its project. The group received $10,000, but only after it appealed the state’s initial decision rejecting the application in its entirety.
Coco said he was disappointed that nonprofits in Newburyport seemed to be much more successful than their counterparts in other communities in obtaining cultural money this year.
“The cities who need economic help the most, such as Methuen, Haverhill and Amesbury, didn’t get it,” Coco said.
“I am astounded that Newburyport was allocated $2,500 to help the under-served Latin community in Jamaica Plain,” Coco said. “How about the under-served in the First Essex District?”
Coco was referring to the committee’s decision to award $2,500 to A Far Cry Inc. The Newburyport group plans to use the money to bring experimental interpretations of chamber music to under-served Latin community in Jamaica Plain, according to its grant application.