Imagine a place where you can explore a museum, go gallery-hopping, then have lunch at an outdoor café. Perhaps pick up tickets for a show, see local artists at work in their studio lofts, or stop and listen to a local jazz trio. All this in a compact, walkable neighborhood. That’s the idea behind Massachusetts’ cultural districts.
Greater Boston: FENWAY CULTURAL DISTRICT | NATICK CENTER CULTURAL DISTRICT | CENTRAL SQUARE, CAMBRIDGE | North of Boston/Greater Merrimack Valley: CONCORD CENTER CULTURAL DISTRICT | LOWELL’S CANAL WAY CULTURAL DISTRICT | LYNN’S CENTRAL EXCHANGE | ROCKPORT CULTURAL DISTRICT | GLOUCESTER’S ROCKY NECK | HARBORTOWN CULTURAL DISTRICT, GLOUCESTER | ESSEX CULTURAL DISTRICT | Cape Cod & The Islands: GLASSTOWN CULTURAL DISTRICT | HYARTS CULTURAL DISTRICT | Western Massachusetts: SHELBURNE FALLS CULTURAL DISTRICT | UPSTREET CULTURAL DISTRICT, PITTSFIELD | COTTAGE STREET CULTURAL DISTRICT, EASTHAMPTON
FENWAY CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Boston’s Fenway Cultural District taps in to the creativity and high energy of a neighborhood that is home to universities, colleges, and some of Boston’s most exciting performing and visual arts institutions.
WHERE IS IT? The district straddles Huntington Avenue, also known as the Avenue of the Arts. A good starting point is the Christian Science Plaza, 210 Massachusetts Avenue. The MBTA Green E Line runs along Huntington Avenue.
EXPLORE Get tickets for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose Symphony Hall is known for its superb acoustics, or attend a toe-tapping jazz concert at the Berklee College of Music. See exhibits of international artists and work by faculty and students at MassArt’s seven gallery spaces, then shop for a one-of-a-kind object at MassArt Made. Explore the Museum of Fine Arts’ encyclopedic collection – Egyptian mummies and Impressionist paintings are perennial favorites — and the dazzling new Art of the Americas wing. Visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a Venetian-style palace, now with a striking new addition by Renzo Piano, and see “Mrs Jack’s” collection of masterpieces – furniture, tapestries, and works by Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Degas, and Whistler. If you’re visiting in October, don’t miss Opening Our Doors, Boston’s largest single day of free music and arts events, theater, film, and hands-on workshops. After all that walking and culture, rest your feet in the Kelleher Rose Garden in the Back Bay Fens.
WHAT’S IN A NAME? The district is named after the Fenway, a main thoroughfare laid out by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture.
LEGENDS Over the years, many legendary artists and celebrities have graced the Fenway area. Jazz great Duke Ellington and virtuoso composer Leonard Bernstein created here. Isabella Stewart Gardner built her grand museum here. Baseball legend Ted Williams played here.
MAP IT Pick up a district map at the following locations: The Fenway Alliance, 337A Huntington Avenue/Avenue of the Arts; The Mary Baker Eddy Library, 200 Massachusetts Avenue; The Shattuck Emerald Necklace Visitors Center, 125 The Fenway.
NATICK CENTER CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Classic New England town with a vibrant fusion of art, culture, and business.
WHERE IS IT? 35 minutes west of Boston. The district is centered around the Town Common at the intersection of S. Main and E. Central streets.
EXPLORE The district’s late nineteenth-century, neo-gothic architecture is an impressive backdrop for its cultural offerings: a lively arts center, contemporary art galleries, artist studios, craft boutiques, and the Morse Institute Library. The Center for Arts in Natick (TCAN) anchors the district. Its restored 1875 Central Fire House buzzes with performances, classes, lectures, film programs, and art exhibitions. The Common’s expanse of green spaces and its wooden gazebo host free public concerts and festivals. The Walnut Hill School for the Arts brings internationally-renowned artists to its performing arts center for public performances.
ARTS X 2 Two annual events showcase the Natick Center’s artists: Natick Open Studios in late October and the summer Art Walk, which brings together artists, live music, and food samples from local restaurants.
MAP IT Pick up a district map at the following locations: Natick Center Associates office, Morse Library, Natick Town Hall, The Center for Arts in Natick, 5 Crows, Gallery 55, Little Bits Toy Store
CENTRAL SQUARE CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Vibrant, multicultural neighborhood that pulses with energy and offers an eclectic array of cultural venues, events, and activities.
EXPLORE The Central Square Theater is home to the Nora Theatre Company and the Underground Railway Theater. Live music is on tap every night at the Middle East Nightclub, the Plough & Stars, T. T. The Bear’s Place, and The Cantab Lounge. Think of MIT as a campus-wide sculpture park: its extensive public art program includes works by Picasso, Calder, and Henry Moore. The MIT Museum is a fascinating showcase for campus-created inventions and ideas. Rodney’s Bookstore and Seven Stars welcome browzers. Architecture buff? Take a quick detour from the district and tour Frank Gehry’s exuberant Stata Center.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS Rub shoulders with Cambridge residents at the district’s colorful, exuberant events, such as the Cambridge River Festival the Cambridge Science Festival, and the Central Square World’s Fair. At the City Dance Party, everyone — from toddlers to septuagenarians – kick up their heels in front of City Hall.
SIT & SIP Hang out with laptop-toting students and Cantabrigians at the 1369 Coffee House. Or eat your way around the world at the square’s many ethnic restaurants and cafes.
CONCORD CENTER CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Picturesque New England village with a revolutionary past – one of the first battles of the American Revolution took place at North Bridge – and a lively performing and visual arts scene.
WHERE IS IT? A 45-minute drive from Boston or accessible by MBTA commuter rail. A good starting point: Monument Square.
EXPLORE There’s no better way to immerse yourself in revolutionary lore than by visiting on Patriot’s Day: The parade features Minutemen, a fife and drum corps, and historical re-enactors on horseback. Fast forward: Musicals and comedies are on tap at the Concord Players. Also based in the Performing Arts Center: the Concord Band and the Concord Orchestra. The Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts is a lively hub for the visual and performing arts. Its theatre hosts an eclectic schedule of plays and musicals; the art gallery presents exhibitions of the Umbrella’s 50+ resident artists and other guest artists. The Umbrella’s twice-yearly Open Studios are a chance to meet all the artists and see their work — complete and in process.
BOOK IT The list of Concord’s literary legends reads like a 19th- century Who’s Who of American Literature. Explore Orchard House, home of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott. The Old Manse was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home and a gathering place for intellectuals. Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s study is in the Concord Museum. Not in the district but nearby: Walden Pond, where Walden author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau famously lived for two years. The independent Concord Bookshop stocks titles of Concord authors, past and present.
MAP IT Pick up a district map at the Concord Visitors’ Center.
LOWELL’S CANAL WAY CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Mill city with rich industrial heritage, thriving arts community, and vibrant ethnic traditions.
WHERE IS IT? Downtown Lowell, 45 minutes northwest of Boston. Good starting point: the Lowell National Historic Park Visitor Center on Market Street.
EXPLORE The Lowell National Historical Park chronicles the city’s prominent role in textile production and the American Industrial Revolution; its Boot Cotton Mills Museum features fully operational power looms (earplugs provided). For an-depth look at the science and art of textiles, check out the American Textile History Museum and the New England Quilt Museum. Merrimack Rep presents a mix of established productions and new plays that address contemporary issues. The Whistler House Museum of Art — birthplace of James McNeill Whistler — houses a permanent collection of 19th- and early 20th-century American representational art. Kerouac Park commemorates Beat novelist and poet and Lowell native son.
5 FESTIVALS Every summer, the city swings into festival mode. The Lowell Folk Festival is a three-day celebration of the city’s multicultural heritage. The Lowell Summer Music Series fills Boarding House Park from June through September with an eclectic roster of jazz, folk, rock, blues, reggae, and banjo and fiddle concerts. Dragon boat races are the centerpiece of the Southeast Asian Water Festival. Also on tap: The Lowell Quilt Festival and the Merrimack Valley Jazz Festival.
RAPID RIDE On spring weekends, take an adrenaline-fueled rafting trip ron the Concord River and its three, Class III-IV rapids. The trip ends in the center of the city after passing through a 1850s lock.
MAP IT Pick up a district map at the following locations: Brew’d Awakenings Coffee Haus, Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, National Park Visitors’ Center, American Textile History Museum, Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce
LYNN’S CENTRAL EXCHANGE
WHY GO? Lynn’s industrial buildings – a vestige of its proud shoe-making and industrial heritage – have been given a new lease of life with the airy loft spaces now home to artist studios, galleries, and new residents.
WHERE IS IT? Located within the city’s Central Business District. A good starting point: the Lynn Museum & Historical Society at 590 Washington Street. The city is on the North Shore, just 11 miles from Boston, and easily accessible on the MBTA Commuter Rail.
EXPLORE LynnArts is a mainstay of the district. Its three galleries showcase local talent; the Neal Rantoul Black-Box Theatre hosts performances and art happenings. And its 25 Exchange shop features one-of-a- kind works by local artists and craftsmen. Arts After Hours presents imaginative theater productions at the Black Box Theatre and other locations. The work of Lynn’s young artists can be seen at the Raw Art Works Gallery. Visit the Lynn Museum & Historical Society; to get a glimpse of Lynn’s rich history and shoe-making heritage. The 2,100-seat Lynn Auditorium features musicals; pop, rock, and Irish music, even acappella groups. Block parties, gallery openings, and cultural celebrations enliven the district. The Turbine Wine Bar and The Blue Ox attract food lovers from throughout the region. If you’re after cool ocean breezes and, perhaps, a quick dip, head to Lynn Shore Drive whose beach faces Nahant Bay. Sun lovers walk, bike, and rollerblade along the promenade; High Rock provides a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Boston skyline.
FLUFF Lynn’s not-so-serious heritage: The city is the home of Marshmallow Fluff, and a sea serpent was once sighted in Lynn Harbor.
MAP IT Pick up a Lynn Arts District map at the following locations: the Lynn Museum, 590 Washington Street; LynnArts, 25 Exchange Street; City Hall, 3 City Hall Square; and at the Raw Arts Bash and other special events.
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ROCKPORT CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Charming seaside town and artists’ colony at the tip of Cape Ann, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on three sides.
EXPLORE Take your pick of more than 40 artists’ studios and galleries – much of the art inspired by Cape Ann’s spectacular scenery and ocean vistas. Take a free tour (June through October) of the brand-new Shalin Liu Performance Center. On the outside, a meticulous Victorian façade; on the inside, a state-of-the-art modern concert hall with a stunning ocean view. On stage: the world-renowned Chamber Music Festival (early June-mid July) and an eclectic schedule of classical, jazz, pop, and world music; theatre; and cinema. Bearskin Neck juts out into the harbor; its narrow lanes are lined with craft shops, galleries and restaurants. Book lovers head to Toad Hall Bookstore in the old Granite Bank building on Main Street for a great selection of local authors. Paddle or pedal the area with a kayak or bicycle from the North Shore Kayak Center. Ready to slow down? Dip your toes into the Atlantic Ocean at Front Beach or sit on T-Wharf, enjoy an ice cream, and watch the lobster boats unload their catch.
MOTIF #1 The town’s enduring symbol is Motif #1, a picturesque building at the harbor entrance, that has been painted, sketched, and photographed by generations of artists from all over the world. Originally built in 1884, it has had to be rebuilt several times due to storm damage.
MAP IT Pick up a district map at the following locations: the Rockport Visitor Center on route 127; the visitor information booth in Barletta Park; and at all participating galleries, restaurants, and performance halls.
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GLOUCESTER’S ROCKY NECK
WHY GO? Experience one of America’s oldest continuously working art colonies amidst a busy commercial harbor and one of the top three fishing ports in the U.S.
WHERE IS IT? Rocky Neck and East Main Street. A good starting point is the public parking lot on the right-hand side as you enter Rocky Neck Avenue. Gloucester is on the North Shore, just 40 miles from Boston and accessible on the MBTA Commuter Rail.
EXPLORE Follow the Rocky Neck Art Trail and walk in the footsteps of Winslow Homer, Fitz Henry Lane, Edward Hopper, and Marsden Hartley. From Stevens Landing, you can see Ten Pound Island, former workplace of Winslow Homer; 2 Clarendon Street inspired Edward Hopper’s The Mansard Roof. See today’s artists at work and browse the galleries that show their work – paintings, pottery, textiles, jewelry, and photography. Get tickets to the critically acclaimed Gloucester Stage Company whose founding director and playwright,Israel Horovitz, is known on and off Broadway.The district is at its most animated during the Rocky Neck Carnival Artists Ball (August). Gloucester is close to whales’ summer feeding grounds and whale-watch boats depart daily, April-October.
MAP IT Pick up a Rocky Neck map at the following locations: the Chamber of Commerce, 33 Commercial Street; the Visitors Center at Stage Fort Park; the parking lot on Rocky Neck Avenue; Gloucester Stage Co.; and at The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson Street.
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HARBORTOWN CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Harbortown is in the center of America’s oldest working seaport, an inspiration for artists, writers, and poets, past and present.
WHERE IS IT? In the heart of downtown Gloucester with Rogers Street and Main Street as the major arteries. The MBTA Commuter Rail connects Boston’s North Station to Gloucester.
EXPLORE The Cape Ann Museum anchors one end of the district with an extensive collection of paintings by Gloucester native and marine artist Fitz Henry Lane and contemporary exhibitions. Other galleries document the local quarrying and fishing industries (museum closed Sept 29, 2013 through late spring, 2014). Stroll the harbor and see fishing vessels unloading their catch, then immerse yourself in the science of the sea at Maritime Gloucester marine life exhibits, dory shop, and sails on the schooner Ardelle. The Sargent House Museum was home to one of America’s earliest feminist writers. Harbortown caters to foodies: 37 restaurants and cafes serve up fresh-of-the-boat seafood, contemporary American fare, sushi, and more.
ART, TOO Gloucester actually has two cultural districts. Immerse yourself in one of America’s oldest art colonies at Harbortown’s sister district, the Rocky Neck Cultural District.
MAP IT Pick up a Harbortown map at City Hall, 9 Dale Avenue; Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, 33 Commercial Street; the Sawyer Free Library, 2 Dale Avenue; and the Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant Street.
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ESSEX CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? North Shore riverfront village with a rich shipbuilding heritage and a thriving antiques center.
WHERE IS IT? The district runs along Main Street in the center of Essex.
EXPLORE The story of Essex is the story of shipbuilding: close to 4,000 two-masted schooners and other wooden vessels were launched from the town’s boatyards. The tradition continues; in 2011, the H. A. Burnham shipyard launched the schooner Ardelle. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum is the home of the Evelina M. Goulart , one of only seven surviving, Essex-built schooners. Explore the Essex River basin by kayak or take a narrated cruise of the estuary with Essex River Cruises. The Cox Reservation teems with shorebirds feeding on the mud flats and the salt marsh.
PAST PERFECT Main Street is a magnet for antique dealers and collectors. More than 30+ antique shops line Main Street, offering fine American and European furniture, mid-century modern, Arts and Crafts, Americana, and more. An extensive collection of American folk art – 60 years in the making – fills Cogswell’s Grant, the collectors’ summer home.
SWEET ‘N CRUNCHYIn 1916, “Chubby” Woodman dipped a clam in batter and tossed it in the deep fryer, thus inventing the fried clam. Woodman’s still serves up the tasty bivalve; the town has an array of casual and elegant restaurants.
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GLASSTOWN CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Cape Cod seaside town known for its glass-making heritage, architecture, and arts.
WHERE IS IT? The village center of Sandwich.
EXPLORE At the Sandwich Glass Museum, you’ll learn why the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was the world’s leading manufacturer of glass during the early 19th century. See molten glass, drawn from the furnace and magically transformed into functional and decorative objects. The Dexter Grist Mill, overlooking Shawme Pond, is one of the most photographed sites on Cape Cod; the Hoxie House, a classic saltbox, is thought to be the oldest house on Cape Cod. Connect with local artists and craftsmen at their collective-run Collections Gallery. You’ll find more crafts at My Sisters Gallery and Sandwich Artisans, eight juried outdoor shows on the lawn of the public library. Learn about the town’s architecture, folklore, and its famous and not-so-famous residents with Sandwich Walking Tours.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT What’s the “Best Sandwich in Sandwich”? Find out at SandwichFest, a lively hometown street fair in June.
BLOOMS Just outside the Glasstown district is the Heritage Museums & Gardens, known for its dazzling display of rhododendrons, a vintage carousel, and galleries for American Folk Art, automobiles, and traveling exhibitions.
MAP IT Pick up a Glasstown cultural district map at the Visitor Center, 128 Route 6A; at the Public Library, 142 Main Street; and online at sandwichglasstown.org/map.
HYARTS CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Thriving Cape Cod village, working port, and islands ferry terminal with a vibrant community of visual and performing artists, many influenced by their seaside surroundings.
WHERE IS IT? Eight blocks along Main Street in downtown Hyannis.
EXPLORE Explore President John F. Kennedy’s Cape Cod roots at the JFK Hyannis Museum. Learn about the Cape’s rich maritime traditions and history at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum and set sail on the catboat Sarah. See exhibitions of emerging and established local artists at the Hyannis Harbor Arts Center. The artist work studios @50 Pearl are open most Saturdays. The Walkway to the Sea links downtown Hyannis’ shops and restaurants to the historic waterfront. It’s hard to miss Buoyed Coasts, an installation of 50 colorful lobster buoys mounted on long poles that move gently in the sea breezes. The free Citizens Bank Tuesday Night Concert series at Aselton Park features toe-tapping music: folk, rock, blues, jazz, funk, and more. The Sunset Celebrations! – also free – provides multigenerational, multicultural, hands-on fun at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum.
MUSICAL NOTES The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, one of the nation’s best-loved musical ensembles, comes to Hyannis every August for Pops-by-the-Sea. 2012 date: August 12.
SEE SHANTIES The Harbor Shanties (mid-May through September) provide a unique opportunity for visitors to meet local visual artists and artisans, watch them work, and take home an original work. Seven shanties line the harborfront boardwalk.
MAP IT Pick up a HyArts district map at: Visitor centers at the Hyannis Chamber Visitor Center on Main Street and the Cape Cod Chamber on Rte. 132, the Steamship Authority ticket area, Hyline ferries, Main Street businesses, area hotels and restaurants, and in all the boat signs on the harbor.
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SHELBURNE FALLS CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? Two charming, craft-filled villages – Shelburne and Buckland – joined by a historic iron bridge across the Deerfield River.
WHERE IS IT? In the northwestern region of the state, on the Mohawk Trail, Route 2.
EXPLORE Visit the villages’ potters, weavers, quilters, leather makers, and photographers at their studios and galleries. Check out Memorial Hall’s eclectic schedule of films, concerts, theatre, and Metropolitan Opera simulcasts. Ride Trolley Car #10 and an antique pump car at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, then stop to smell the blooms that now bedeck the Bridge of Flowers, a former trolley bridge. Dine on the West End Pub’s deck overlooking the river; catch a musical act or poetry reading at Mocha Maya’s Coffee Co.
BIBLIOCAT Swing by Boswell’s Books for new and used books, works by local authors, a great selection of titles on sustainability, and a poetry-loving cat.
MAP IT Pick up a district map at the following locations: Shelburne Falls Village Information Center; information centers in Pittsfield, Adams, North Adams, Williamstown, Greenfield, and Johnny Appleseed; Mohawk Trail Association; Franklin County Chamber of Commerce; Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau; Lee Outlets; MASS MoCA; Howard Johnson’s; and Cozy Corner Motel, Williams Inn, Berkshire Hills Motel, and Maple Terrace Motel, all in Williamstown.
UPSTREET CULTURAL DISTRICT, PITTSFIELD
WHY GO? Pittsfield is a former industrial city turned cultural hub: museums, theatre, artists’ studios, and imaginative arts events.
WHERE IS IT? In downtown Pittsfield, in the western Massachusetts region of the Berkshires. The district runs along North and South streets; a good starting point is the intersection of North Street and East & West Streets.
EXPLORE Upstreet is a magnet for theatre lovers. The Tony Award-winning Barrington Stage Company produces top-notch musicals, masterful classics and thought-provoking new works, some Broadway-bound. The Colonial Theatre, a recently restored Gilded Age playhouse, presents an eclectic schedule from jazz to folk concerts, musicals to acrobats. The Berkshire Museum does its part to spark creativity with exhibits and programs that make connections among art, history, and natural science. The Lichtenstein Center for the Arts includes a gallery with changing exhibits and working artist’s studios. Keep your eyes peeled as you meander around the district: more than 30 outdoor, public, art works –sculptures, murals, and arts installations – populate the streets and parks. Upstreet art sometimes appears in unlikely places: churches, the bus station, empty storefronts, even a barber shop. Street life comes alive with shops, galleries, coffee shops, wine and tapas bars, and ethnic restaurants — from Spanish to Malaysian. On Third Thursdays (May-October), North Street is closed and the streets come alive with musicians, artists, gallery openings, themed activities, sidewalk dining, after hours shopping, and much more. The annual WordXWord festival (August) celebrates the transformative power of words – written, spoken and sung.
VILLAGE LIFE Just 13 miles west of Pittsfield, Hancock Shaker Village brings the Shaker story to life through its buildings, craft demonstrations, historic farm, and herb gardens.
MAP IT Pick up an Upstreet map at the following locations: Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, 28 Renne Avenue; Colonial Theatre, 111 South Street; Berkshire Museum, 39 South Street; Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union Street; Dottie’s Coffee Lounge, 444 North Street.
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COTTAGE STREET CULTURAL DISTRICT
WHY GO? The Cottage Street Cultural District is known for its eclectic array of galleries and imaginative shops, its lively arts and music scene, and its inimitable funky style.
WHERE IS IT? Located in Easthampton at the base of Mount Tom. Start anywhere along Cottage Street.
EXPLORE Live bluegrass is on tap at Luthier’s Co-Op, along with local beers and a deep inventory of vintage guitars and banjos. For music in vinyl form, head to Platterpuss Records, the region’s most cherished record store. Enjoy Sunday brunch and a movie with views of the Nashawannuck pond at Popcorn Noir, a cinema and restaurant that also serves up theater and live music. Bibliophiles and collectors head to White Square – Fine Books & Art; felt makers flock to New England Felting, housed in a 1920s vaudeville theater.
ART BEAT The 60+ working artists at Cottage Street Studios host Open Studios twice a year; Art Walk Easthampton’s Second Saturday program brings free visual, music, and performance art events to the street. The Nash Gallery hosts Paint Out!, a plein air painting competition and exhibition, every September.
CULTURE IN A CONE Locals will tell you that Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream and Candy Store is a cultural experience. Find out for yourself.
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