I keep watch for what cities are doing with arts and culture, especially when there is traction and notable outcomes.
Lowell comes to mind as a city that is re-purposing it’s industrial history in creative ways. As a home to many many artists, musicians, and cultural organizations, how the city leverages its many assets is worth paying attention to.
Last week I visited the Lowell Visitor Center to hear one key Lowell arts and culture organization share its latest research and subsequent new strategic plan. With that visit, I discovered a few cool things in Lowell that I thought worth sharing.
The Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL) is a key player in Lowell, a neutral leader eager to collaborate with the many artists, cultural organizations, and creatives in Lowell. Its new (2017) strategic plan focuses on bringing more money to the arts and culture scene in Lowell, fostering effective and more frequent communication and connection among the various creative players in Lowell, and tweaks to organizational infrastructure and sustainable funding plans.
Mill No. #5 is the brainchild of local developer Jim Lichoulas, who has re-purposed an old mill with salvaged materials collected over a lifetime. The hallway of floor 5 of this 1873 relic is a streetscape from the past lined with specialty retail shops, galleries, a coffee shop, an old style movie theater and more. The space is for the community. It strikes the imagination and feels generous – as if some mastermind of design conceived of a place to nurture life and a sense of experience. The unique and varied signs, windows, doors, and floors are a respite from cookie cutter chains and sterile commercial spaces.
Lowell Folk Festival has been a famous fixture in Lowell for thirty years. It is one of the largest, longest running free festivals in the nation. In addition, Lowell is home to four other festivals each year:
- Lowell Summer Music Series
- Southeast Asian Water Festival
- Lowell Quilt Festival
- Merrimack Valley Jazz Festival.
The Lowell National Historic Park was built in the center of Lowell. It encompasses many historic buildings, a number of museums, a river walkway, and a visitor center with historical highlights and Jack Kerouac audio remembrances. The evolution of this National Park began in the 70s as several large entities in Lowell began to work together to discuss the possible transformation of some of the old industrial relics that had been such a prominent feature of Lowell’s start. Though the entities had different agendas, their collaboration happened enough for the National Park to be designed, built, and enhanced over the years. Now the park is a place to visit with many interesting museums, canal tours/walkway, and historical references in museums, plaques, and memorabilia.
Clusters of art galleries, artist lofts, coffee shops, and performance venues: too many to count, and many happenings daily – enough to keep insiders/outsiders busy almost every day of the week.
Enormous refurbished old mills, warehouses with big windows form long rows of formidable corridors. Condominiums and apartment buildings, artist lofts, corporate offices beckon to a past era…with some new and slightly greener landscaping polish to beautify industrial ambience.