40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Morgan Drewniany

Executive Director, Springfield Central Cultural District; Age 26

Morgan Drewniany

Morgan Drewniany

When Morgan Drewniany was living on a reservation in New Mexico — studying soil chemistry and writing about the intersection between environmental and social justice as a project for Hampshire College — a career curating public arts programs may have seemed an unlikely next step.

But her desire to work in community development after college led her to the assistant director position at the Springfield Business Improvement District. When the director’s chair at the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) opened up in 2014, she lobbied for the opportunity to run that agency.

“I said, ‘give me six months. If it’s not a good fit, you’ll know it.’ But it worked out well.”

It certainly has, on many levels. For example, Drewniany has spearheaded street and storefront initiatives like utility-box painting and Art Stop pop-up galleries, with the goal of promoting walkability and livability downtown. “To see the artists install their work, and at the same time see property owners make their spaces look amazing, and therefore make their tenants much happier, we’ve made several people’s day. Everyone feels more invested.”

Then there are broader programs like SCCD’s participation in Futurecity Massachusetts, which aims to reposition the cultural assets of Springfield, Boston, and Worcester as economic drivers.

Other SCCD initiatives have included an online video map to accompany the Downtown Springfield Cultural Walking Tour, and one-off events like a free concert last fall with three local organists in Old First Church in Court Square, playing the church’s full-size 1958 Aeolian-Skinner organ with its 56 ranks and 3,241 pipes, demonstrating the potential in a historic building and encouraging future activity there.

Besides connecting art and culture to the city’s economic-development efforts, many of these initiatives also provide income to local creatives, an outcome Drewniany values, noting that too many people take the arts for granted and think it’s enough for artists to produce works in exchange for exposure alone.

Leading a nonprofit that counts some 55 organizations as members, Drewniany told BusinessWest she enjoys helping people connect the dots between culture and commerce, bringing vibrancy and quality of life to Springfield.

“We can use art to solve public-safety issues, economic-development issues, and education issues. And more often than not, it’s a grass-roots approach; the community is involved in deciding what kinds if placemaking they want to see,” she said. “I always say art has a unique capacity to solve a number of problems in the most inclusive way.”

—Joseph Bednar