Cambridge has been shaped by dreamers and visionaries throughout its history. A city of ideas and solutions, Cambridge boasts a long list of creative thinkers, writers, artists, innovators, entrepreneurs. To ensure our city continues in this tradition of innovation, it is critical to feed the creativity and imagination of its residents. Several emerging efforts are working in that direction. Through them, we strive to retain and nurture the diversity and creativity essential to Cambridge and foster community economic development through arts and culture.

Signature investments:

  • Central Square Cultural Innovation District – An effort to sustain the Square as a vibrant cultural destination and place where every part of Cambridge comes together
  • Cambridge Connects – A project that brings together artists and residents to lift up stories that place local residents in a dynamic and changing city
  • Cambridge Creativity Commons – A program bridging the gap between arts and science to offer engaging STEAM programs to Cambridge students.

Central Square Cultural Innovation District

The heart of Cambridge, Central Square, was conceived as a downtown district in the 1850s. Today, this busy stretch of Massachusetts Avenue, book-ended by Harvard and MIT, retains its reputation as an ethnically diverse, culturally rich gathering place: a gritty island in the midst of prosperity.

Central Square gave shelter to the city’s many cultural assets during the Square’s economic downtime. As such, it is home to dance studios, cafes, galleries, theaters, bookstores, and churches that feed the soul of the city.  Much of this vitality is hidden, however, buffered by chain stores, several banking institutions, and a substantial homeless population. At the same time, a thriving economy and grand university developments are inching closer. While a state-designated cultural and historic district, it is poised to be much more: a rich, cultural innovation district.

Central Square: Cultural Innovation District Partnership was a cross-sector collaboration to ensure the square’s long-term sustainability and cultural vitality. Strategically leveraging its existing cultural assets and institutions, the Partnership cross-pollinated arts innovation, economic development, and the celebration of diversity to create and brand a unique, exciting Cultural Innovation District.

During the fall of 2016, the Foundation’s president, Geeta Pradhan, led a group of students at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design to interview leaders and residents in the square and draw data on needs.

In 2019, the Foundation supported the launch of the Central Square Business Improvement District (BID) and continues to be a funder and partner in the Central Square BID’s work to create spaces and opportunities for local residents, artists, and entrepreneurs to benefit from the richness of our cultural district.

Cambridge Connects funded neighborhood partnerships around Central Square to raise awareness of the value of inclusion in a city being hollowed out by income inequality. The project was funded through a co-investment of the Cambridge Community Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Each partnership paired an arts organization with resident-youth to engage the immediate community in a creative conversation that lifts up local cultures, traditions, and diversity. The goal was to generate a public conversation that promotes the idea of diversity as the essence of place.

Partners and their Cambridge Connects programs:

Cambridge Creativity Commons was founded in the studio of artist Dorothy ‘Doffie’ Arnold in East Cambridge, who opened her studio to the children of Cambridge to share her love of art and the artmaking process. “A magical place, the studio was filled with thousands of pieces of artwork and the spirit of an artist at work.” It helped recreate the art-making experience in the classroom. In 2011, the Foundation helped launch Cambridge Creativity Commons to bridge the gap between arts and science to offer engaging STEAM programs to Cambridge students. The Cambridge Creativity Commons is the brainchild of our former Foundation board member Prof. Martha McKenna and is housed at Lesley University.  Read more.

  • Illustrative Grants:
    Cambridge Connects — a National Endowment of the Arts co-investment
    Central Square Cultural District Action Planning