Doreen Baumann, center, received Bluffton’s Cultural District designation Feb. 24 in Columbia, joined by Ken May, left, executive director of the S.C. Arts Commission, and Susan DuPlessis, Beaufort County arts coordinator.

The Town of Bluffton has grown substantially over the years, and one of its biggest assets lately has been the vibrant, historic Old Town area.

Now, the town has been formally recognized for its cultural significance, receiving designation Feb. 24 by the South Carolina Arts Commission as a Cultural District, one of only six across the Palmetto State.

But what exactly does that mean?

According to the Arts Commission, a Cultural District is “a geographic area that has a large concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets.” The Cultural District becomes part of a program designed to attract artists and foster creativity, as well as promote economic growth and strengthen local cultural identity and heritage.

This recognition is attributed to the continued advocacy of Doreen Baumann and Judy McElynn, founders of the Bluffton Creative Initiative (BCI). The BCI is a group of stakeholders and volunteers who have come together to form a cultural district steering committee, which meets part of the requirements for Cultural District designation. The BCI is split into five task forces, including organization, outreach and education, design, event planning and promotion.

From the BCI, Baumann and McElynn formed the Bluffton Cultural District Alliance, which serves as a collaborative partnership between several representatives invested in the arts and culture of Old Town Bluffton. This allows for many former competitors to instead work together for the betterment of the community and the preservation of Old Town Bluffton’s culture.

“The Alliance puts all the people who are like-minded about seeing improvements and not changing things that should be protected, such as our nature as a small, charming town, into a single group where they can work together,” said McElynn.

The idea for applying for the Cultural District designation was sparked by Baumann’s lifelong love for the arts and her appreciation for the culture and history surrounding Old Town Bluffton.

“What they’re looking for is a walkable geographical district that has arts and cultural facilities and resources,” Baumann said. “That not only includes galleries, but also restaurants and cultural venues (such as) museums like the Heyward House. It was very suitable for Bluffton to meet this.”

The Cultural District designation will be labeled as such on the state’s Department of Tourism website. But it’s not just tourists that they seek to educate.

“What we’re trying to do is communicate to the greater Bluffton area what facilities and resources we have available, because a lot of people don’t realize what’s downtown,” Baumann said.

Plans are in the works to showcase the cultural opportunities in Old Town Bluffton, including new music festivals, improved theater space and a coordinated calendar for all events from many of the organizations in Bluffton.

Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Bluffton Sun.