Years after it became the Island’s first state-designated cultural district, the Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District is relaunching as a newly-minted nonprofit led by artists working in the town.

Its new status will enable the district to raise and distribute money as well as accept it, said accessory designer Rachel Baumrin, one of several working artists on the district’s current board of directors and owner of the Martha’s Vineyard Made boutique on Main street.

“Vineyard Haven has one of the largest cultural districts in the state,” Ms. Baumrin said. “It’s open year-round, it is the main port of the Vineyard.... There is so much culture and so many interesting things to do in this town.”

Despite its name, which pays tribute to the town’s long history of boat building and design, the harbor cultural district reaches well beyond the waterfront area to include Main street, the playhouse on Church street and the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Spring street.

First Fridays have become a popular town attraction; the next one is Dec. 1. — Zivah Solomon

Securing the cultural district designation in 2014 was a tribute to the downtown’s growing cultural vibrancy and activity, said Vineyard Haven Public Library director Amy Ryan, who co-chaired the district’s board when it was first established by a coalition of nonprofits and town officials.

“You don’t think of Vineyard Haven as an art town, but there’s really a lot of these cultural businesses of different types,” she said, citing the community’s architects, designers and jewelry makers as well as its studio artists, performers and gallery owners.

Other ringleaders then included Richard Paradise from the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, which opened its film center in Tisbury Marketplace in late 2012; MJ Bruder Munafo from the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, then wrapping up a renovation; and Phil Wallis, then director of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, which was in the process of moving from Edgartown to its new home on Lagoon Pond Road.

“It was a good experience,” recalled town administrator Jay Grande, who helped draft the application for state recognition of the cultural district. “It [gives] you grant opportunities to support the creative economy.”

Creativity is an essential part of the town’s identity, said Althea Freeman-Miller, printmaker and owner of Althea Gallery. Ms. Freeman-Miller is the new president of the cultural district board and the daughter of two artisans who met at the legendary Artworkers Guild off State Road.

Left to right: Althea Freeman-Miller, Elysha Roberts and Taylor Stone — Zivah Solomon

“I grew up surrounded by artists, and I thought that was just what normal life was,” Ms. Freeman-Miller said. “I want to keep that, not just the history but bring it into the present.”

Tisbury’s master planning process, now under way, offers a unique opportunity for the arts community to claim its place as part of the town’s identity, Ms. Freeman-Miller said.

“Everybody talks about the green [environmental] economy and the blue [water-based] economy, but we have such a creative community,” she said. “That’s what culture is, right, that we keep being ourselves in our town and making a space for that.”

At present, the cultural district is best known for joining forces with the Vineyard Haven Business Association to create the popular First Fridays art, food and music events, a downtown draw since 2016. Ms. Freeman-Miller and musician-engineer Andy Herr first suggested the series because each of them had taken part in similar public entertainment strolls off-Island.

Since then, First Fridays have become a signature event for the town, dependably attracting visitors every month; this year’s last hurrah is set for Dec. 1 at the museum, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Waterfront area and Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway are key parts of the arts cultural district. — Zivah Solomon

The cultural district lost momentum after Covid-19 shut down most public gatherings in March, 2020, and the district’s reinvigoration began about a year ago, Ms. Ryan said, with a gathering at Waterside Market to “pass the torch” to a new group of arts activists.

“It is great that there’s that kind of energy again for the district,” Ms. Ryan said.

Mr. Wallis, now director of the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, helped guide the district through becoming a Massachusetts nonprofit corporation, completing the process in August.

Joining Ms. Freeman-Miller on the new board of directors, jewelry designer Elysha Roberts is vice-president and cut-paper artist Taylor Stone is secretary.

Along with Ms. Baumrin and Mr. Wallis, Mr. Herr and sculptor-gallery manager Wil Sideman also serve on the new board, which is holding public meetings at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.

“We’re hoping to continue offering these open meetings [to] create a community-based gathering and build momentum,” Ms. Baumrin said.

At their first open meeting last week, district board members laid out plans to network with town officials and business leaders, develop fundraising and financing plans, seek public art and cultural signage and explore the creation of festivals and special events.

All interested Islanders are welcome to the next meeting, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m., Ms. Baumrin said.

“It doesn’t have to be Vineyard Haven-specific. It could be anybody who just cares enough,” she said, noting the need for active members to work on district initiatives.

“At the end of the day, they’re all great ideas, but they need people to implement them,” Ms. Baumrin said.