LOWELL – Good things are happening in Lowell this summer. And some of these good things will be six stories tall and almost 100 feet long.
In August, seven murals will be painted on buildings in the Lowell neighborhoods, including three downtown, two in Back Central, and one each in The Acre and Pawtucketville.
The outdoor public art joins the two murals painted last summer.
“This isn’t just about murals coming up and being a flash in the pan, this is about community building at full scale,” said Project LEARN Executive Director LZ Nunn.
The nonprofit organization provides innovative educational programs for students and young people in Lowell and has spearheaded mural efforts.
Nunn spoke to The Sun editors during a roundtable discussion about the project hosted by Michael Gallagher at his Shattuck Street law office. Adjacent to Gallagher & Cavanaugh is the Athenian Corner restaurant, whose four-story brick wall has been transformed by one of the opening artworks painted last summer.
In 2019, the LEARN (Lowell Educational Alliance Resource Network) project and local partners worked together to launch ArtUp Lowell, “a youth arts and location initiative that aims to create dynamic and culturally relevant art in public spaces to empower the diverse Celebrate and engage communities of Lowell. ”
From this collaboration emerged the first project, which saw the installation of two large-scale murals in 2021. The first was painted on the Community Teamwork Inc. wall by Evaristo Angurria, a Dominican visual artist, graphic designer and activist. His Dona Patra: Dominican Beauty mural overlooks the Gates Bock Garden behind the non-profit’s building on Dutton Street.
The second was painted by David Zayas, a Puerto Rican visual artist, on the wall of Athenian Corner on Market and Shattuck streets in Lowell’s historic district.
Hundreds of young people took part in dialogues with the artists, and interns for the LEARN project explored potential future sites and spoke to local residents about the murals.
Youth participation for this year’s mural project will be organized by ArtUp Lowell through a teacher task force that will include participation grants. The task force will help spearhead mural-themed projects with local educators to create lesson plans, poetry slams, art competitions and other creative ideas for classrooms this fall. ArtUp also recruits paid artist production assistants and site managers during mural projects.
The vision for this year’s project continues Lowell’s celebration of cultural diversity, Nunn said, and involves more than 30 partners.
The roundtable was attended by community leaders from organizations such as Mosaic Lowell, Middlesex Community College, Western Avenue Studios and Curation 250, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City Manager Tom Golden, as well as many nonprofit community groups.
A quiet but powerful presence behind the project was Lowell philanthropist and art enthusiast Nancy Donahue, who provided significant financial support for the ambitious project.
“We received seed capital from the amazing Nancy L. Donahue,” Nunn said.
The additional seven murals will expand the artistic presence across the city. But the size, scope, and quality of the project required technical expertise from Beyond Walls, which is described as a nonprofit “placemaking agency that uses a creative lens to address community needs.”
The group worked together to coordinate the painting of murals on 72 buildings across the town of Lynn. They led the selection process for this year’s artists and will oversee its implementation.
“In March we launched a call for artists,” said Charlotte Maher, Art Director of Beyond Walls. “We had 200 applications, more than 50 were from Massachusetts and more than 20 had ties to Lowell. We presented these applications to an artist panel that included the ArtUp coalition.”
From this call for artists, seven artists from Lowell, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Boston and Detroit were selected:
• Former Lowell resident Sophy Tuttle will paint a mural on Mahoney Hall at UMass Lowell. She worked and practiced at Western Avenue Studios. Tuttle’s work is known for its focus on environmental conservation, conservation and awareness raising, conversation and dialogue about endangered species.
• Bryan Beyung is a visual artist from Montreal, Canada, who was born into a Sino-Cambodian family. His mural will adorn the back of Eliot Church on Favor Street in the Back Central neighborhood.
• Andrew Tricoche is a Puerto Rican public artist who was born and raised in Lowell. His mural will be painted on the Coalition for a Better Acre building on Middlesex Street.
• The artist known as Dovente is from the Dominican Republic. His mural will be on display at Middlesex Community College’s Cowan Center.
• Boston and Detroit artists Mattaya Fitts and Quest Nine, respectively, will paint murals in MCC’s Derby Park on Dutton Street.
• Cambodian artist Fonki was born in France to parents who fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. His Mural Building Canvas is to be announced.
• Angurria will expand its mural in 2021 to encompass the entire back wall of the building at CTI.
“Representation matters. The first two murals are by a Puerto Rican and a Dominican artist, who make up the majority of Lowell’s Afro-Latinx community,” said Carl Howell, CTI’s Chief Program Officer. “Having amazing art in your community that reflects your culture brings community involvement because residents feel represented in their skills and in the art.”
Middlesex Community College was an early proponent of the idea. Its 18 buildings on the Lowell and Bedford campuses provide a ready canvas for large-scale art.
“Phil Sisson, MCC President, viewed the buildings as a blank portrait with which to do something that reflects the diversity of our campus,” said Patrick Cook, vice president of administration. “We’re trying to beautify these buildings and give them a different face, one of which is a gateway to downtown.”
Fostering a sense of community through art is the main goal of the mural project, but the economic benefits are also a key part, said Peter Crewe, the city’s cultural director.
“We see the murals as both a tool for community building and a tool for economic development,” said Crewe. “The murals help draw people back downtown. The expansion of the project will only add to the visibility of the city.”
The wall installations coincide with the Vibe Street Art Festival, which runs from August 14th to September 10th. Mosaic Lowell, whose slogan is “many creators, many cultures, one community,” is Lowell’s next arts and culture business plan. and is supported by many city partners including the Greater Lowell Community Foundation.
Howard Amidon, Mosaic Lowell’s vice president of philanthropy and a member of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, said expanding the mural idea to the neighborhood is the next step in the arts and culture city plan.
“Enormous things are happening here, and the more projects we can bring into the neighborhood like the murals, the better for our city,” he said.
Gallagher agrees, noting that “Lowell is not Sturbridge Village. We are a living, breathing, working, commercial and educational community. It’s about creating beautiful spaces.”