A Cultural District is a specific area of a city or town identified by the municipality that has a number of cultural facilities, activities and/or assets–both for profit and nonprofit

(NEW LONDON, CT) – Today, Lt. Governor Bysiewicz and the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA) announced it has approved New London’s application to create a Cultural District in town. New London is the third municipality to receive such a designation.

Cultural Districts are walkable areas of a city or town that feature numerous cultural facilities, activities and/or assets. These vibrant areas draw visitors from other towns and states and serve as a hub for residents to congregate and interact. Cultural districts:

  • Promote and encourage artists, entrepreneurs, and creative businesses
  • Promote tourism and increase visitation
  • Improve the quality of life for residents
  • Strengthen distinctive character of communities
  • Drive economic growth and expand the tax base
  • Highlight local culture and history

A requirement of the program is the city or town must establish a Cultural District Commission that manages all aspects of the district.

“The Cultural District Program is one of the most effective tools in the toolbox for a municipality that is ready to center the creative economy in municipal planning. Arts organizations, artists, creative entrepreneurs, museums, restaurants and hotels come together as a foundational component in cities and towns with thriving cultural offerings,” said Liz Shapiro, DECD’s Director of Arts, Preservation and Museums. “New London has long been a destination for creatives and cultural consumers, spend some time in New London and you’ll leave wanting more!”

“The designation of Cultural District’s throughout our state provide an opportunity for residents to recognize all of the great arts, entertainment, food and fun that we have right here in Connecticut,” said Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz. “New London is full of different cultures and rich history, and we invite everyone in Connecticut and beyond to come and see what this great city has to offer.”

“Formal recognition by the state means the New London Cultural District will have the support necessary to spread the word about our diverse mix of entertainment, food, and culture,” said Rich Martin, chairman of the New London Cultural District Commission and owner of Telegraph Records. Martin is a former long-time manager of Hygienic Art as well as other arts organizations and festivals.

Mayor Michael Passero said the designation allows all Connecticut residents know that they can come to New London’s nearly 400-year-old seaport for a rich experience in entertainment, food, and the arts of all kinds.

“To be recognized as one of the first official Cultural Districts in the state is really an honor for our business owners and non-profit organizations that bring New London’s rich blend of cultures to the forefront,” Mayor Passero said. “Whether it’s through cultural heritage events or our locally owned restaurants offering an international menu, it’s clear that New London is the center of arts, culture, and diversity in southeastern Connecticut.”

The New London Cultural District encompasses an eclectic mix of locally owned shops, galleries, and restaurants along the Thames River and bounded by State, Bank, and Howard streets.

The city sponsors several cultural events including heritage recognition days, the ‘Eat in the Street’ series, Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, Sailfest, and more. The city recently unveiled its Black Heritage Trail featuring 15 sites of local and national significance in the Black American experience.

Chief among the cultural attractions are Hygienic Art, the Garde Arts Center, Black Heritage Trail, and Custom House Maritime Museum.

Hygienic Art is located on Bank Street and is the former home of the popular Hygienic Restaurant. Serving as the creative hub of the City’s diverse, rich arts community, the Hygienic provides a full range of offerings including gallery displays, author talks, concerts, and more. Its outdoor amphitheater provides a venue for a variety of acts in the heart of the District.

New London’s Black Heritage Trail highlights the determination with which New London’s Black community overcame obstacles through personal courage and by founding institutions to meet its social, political, economic, and spiritual needs. The sites tell a story about Black life in New London while tying into larger stories about enslavement, the Great Migration and the struggle for civil rights.

Garde Arts Center was created in 1985 as a non-profit culture and arts venue to save and restore the Garde Theatre, which was built in 1926 to host vaudeville shows and that latest form of entertainment — motion pictures. As the premier performing arts and film venue in the City, The Garde Arts Center offers a broad mix of programming for all ages and interests.

The Custom House Maritime Museum is located in the original U.S. Customs House overlooking the Thames River. Built in 1833 when New London was the world’s second largest whaling port, the granite building was designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument. The museum is operated by the New London Maritime Society, which formed in 1983 to stop the federal government’s sale of the building.