ArtUp Lowell: Bringing vitality and opportunity to our city through art

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Lowell’s landscape is about to dramatically change. This month, over just two weeks’ time, eight muralists, from Lowell and around the globe, will produce large-scale works of art in city neighborhoods through the creative placemaking initiative ArtUp Lowell.

Collaborative civic art initiatives like ArtUp Lowell can transform public spaces, create welcoming environments for locals and visitors, and be an important source of a city’s economic development and tourism promotion. Over the course of 10 years, Chicago’s Millennium Park generated $1.4 billion in visitor spending, nearly a 3:1 return on the initial $500 million investment made by public and private funds.

Beyond the economic benefits, placemaking and other types of public art projects empower a city’s residents and provide opportunities to engage young people in making art and beautifying their neighborhoods.

According to an article from the National League of Cities, “Areas that are well-lit and have public art or murals attract pedestrians, bicyclists and even auto traffic, lead to safer and more vibrant communities.”

In 2019, Project LEARN and over 30 local partners built on the Lowell Community Health Center’s successful ArtUp program, and launched ArtUp Lowell, a youth arts and place-based initiative that creates dynamic and culturally relevant art in public spaces to engage and celebrate Lowell’s diverse communities.

That summer, ArtUp Lowell launched its placemaking epoch with Jack’s Flags, a project in Kerouac Park that engaged more than 800 students and 14 teachers in creating a temporary art exhibit.

Over the last three years, ArtUp Lowell has become a citywide coalition of local artists, business owners and dedicated community members whose mission is to increase civic engagement in the arts, celebrate the city’s cultural vitality, and boost foot traffic and spending at restaurants and small businesses near where murals are located.

“Creating a vibrant visual experience for residents and visitors puts Lowell in the category of other cities that invest in the arts and embrace their varied histories and exhibit pride in their community,” said James Grace, executive director of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, which now owns Western Avenue Studios. “Murals have the power to engage and inspire.”

As Lowell began to emerge from the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall of 2021, the coalition began looking for ways to jumpstart the city’s economic recovery and amplify Lowell’s reputation as a center for vibrant, multicultural art that celebrates diverse community stories.

Thanks to the expertise of the Massachusetts-based placemaking nonprofit, Beyond Walls, and local production management company, BRM Production Management, ArtUp Lowell entered its next phase and was able to bring two large scale murals by international muralistsDavid Zayas and Evaristo Angurria into downtown.

Then, this past March, over 200 artists applied to the call for art and an 18-member selection committee identified finalists based on artists’ past experience at scale and their connection to Lowell’s diverse population.

Representation matters. When young people see their culture represented skillfully in large scale public art, it encourages them to be involved in civic spaces and in community building.

Ramping up this year’s project from two to seven large scale murals was no small task. Thanks to a partnership between businesses, local arts organizations and nonprofits, educational institutions, civic leaders, local philanthropist and arts advocate Nancy Donahue, and a matching grant from MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places grant program, ArtUp Lowell will collectively invest over $250,000 for the 2022 murals.

New partners this year — like UMass Lowell, Middlesex Community College, the Eliot Church and Coalition for a Better Acre — have helped ArtUp Lowell bring dynamic, culturally responsive public art to our neighborhoods, and to the college campuses.

The second round of murals comes at an opportune time for the city, following the re-emergence of the Lowell Folk Festival and the launch of Mosaic Lowell’s draft cultural plan. Under the leadership of the city’s Cultural Affairs & Special Events Office, and Mosaic Lowell, local arts and cultural organizations will showcase artistic talent and creativity through VIBE Fest, a month-long celebration of art and creativity, which kicks off Saturday, Aug. 20, at Curation 250 in Mill No. 5.

Check out the ArtUp Lowell page on the Like Lowell website for more information on events and murals.

Many thanks to the city, the National Park, the Historic Commission, Mosaic Lowell, Greater Lowell Community Foundation, Lowell’s talented artist community, and our many partners for their vision and contributions. If you would like to contribute to the effort in any way, email Autumn Kleiner at akleiner@projectlearninc.org.

This column was written by LZ Nunn and Michael Gallagher, with Adam Baacke, UMass Lowell Chancellor Julie Chen, Carl Howell, JuanCarlos Rivera and Middlesex Community College President Philip Sisson. 

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