LOWELL – Good things are happening at Lowell this summer. And some of these good things are going to be six stories high and nearly 100 feet long.
During the month of August, seven murals will be painted on buildings in Lowell neighborhoods, including three in Downtown, two in Back Central and one in The Acre and Pawtucketville.
Outdoor public art joins the two murals that were painted last summer.
“It’s not just about putting up murals and being a flash in the pan, it’s about building community at scale,” LEARN project said executive director LZ Nunn.
The nonprofit organization provides innovative educational programs for Lowell students and youth and spearheaded the mural effort.
Nunn spoke at a roundtable on the project with The Sun’s editorial board, hosted by Michael Gallagher at his Shattuck Street law office. Next door to Gallagher & Cavanaugh is the Athenian Corner restaurant, whose four-story brick wall was transformed by one of the inaugural works of art painted last summer.
In 2019, Project LEARN (Lowell Educational Alliance Resource Network) and local partners collaborated to launch ArtUp Lowell, “a youth arts and placemaking initiative designed to create dynamic, culturally relevant art in public spaces. in order to celebrate and engage the diverse communities of Lowell.”
From this collaboration was born the initial project in which two large-scale murals were installed in 2021. The first was painted on the wall of Community Teamwork Inc.. by Evaristo Angurria, Dominican artist, graphic designer and activist. Her mural, “Dona Patra: Dominican Beauty,” overlooks the Gates Bock Garden behind the nonprofit’s building on Dutton Street.
The second was painted by David Zayas, a Puerto Rican visual artist, on the wall at the Athens corner of Market and Shattuck streets in the historic Lowell neighborhood.
Hundreds of young people participated in dialogues with the artists, and LEARN Project interns scouted potential future locations and spoke with area residents about the murals.
Youth participation in this year’s mural project is being organized by ArtUp Lowell through a working group of teachers, which will include participation stipends. The task force will help initiate mural-themed projects with local educators to design lesson plans, poetry slams, art contests and other creative ideas for classrooms this fall. ArtUp also hires paid artist production assistants and site captains during mural projects.
This year’s project vision continues Lowell’s celebration of cultural diversity, Nunn said, and involves more than 30 partners.
The roundtable featured community leaders from organizations such as Lowell MosaicMiddlesex Community College, West Avenue Studios and Preservation 250the city cultural affairs and special events department, City Manager Tom Golden as well as numerous non-profit community groups.
A quiet but powerful presence behind the project was Lowell philanthropist and art enthusiast Nancy Donahue, who provided crucial financial support for the ambitious project.
“We received seed funding from the amazing Nancy L. Donahue,” Nunn said.
The seven additional murals will extend the artistic footprint across the city. But the size, scale and quality of the project required the technical expertise of beyond the wallsdescribed as a “non-profit place-making agency that uses a creative lens to meet community needs”.
The group collaborated in coordinating the painting of murals on 72 buildings across the town of Lynn. They managed this year’s artist selection process and will oversee its implementation.
“In March, we launched a call for artists,” said Charlotte Maher, artistic director of Beyond Walls. “We had 200 applications, over 50 were from Massachusetts and over 20 had ties to Lowell. We presented these applications to a review board of artists, which 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 well known for its focus on environmentalism, conservationism, and awareness, conversation, and dialogue around endangered species.
• Bryan Beyung is a visual artist from Montreal, Canada, born into a Chinese-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 fresco will be painted on the Coalition for a Better Acre building on Middlesex Street.
• The artist known as Dovente comes from the Dominican Republic. His mural will be on view at the Cowan Center at Middlesex Community College.
• Artists Mattaya Fitts and Quest Nine, from Boston and Detroit respectively, will paint murals at MCC’s Derby Park on Dutton Street.
• Cambodian artist Fonki was born in France to parents who were refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. His mural construction canvas is noteworthy.
• Angurria will expand its 2021 mural to encompass the entire back wall of the CTI building.
“Representation matters. The first two murals were done by a Puerto Rican artist and a Dominican artist, who represent the majority of Lowell’s Afro-Latin community,” said CTI Program Director Carl Howell. “Having amazing art in their community that reflects their culture brings community engagement because residents see themselves represented in skills and in art.”
Middlesex Community College was an early proponent of the idea. Its 18 buildings spread across the Lowell and Bedford campuses provide a ready canvas for large-scale art.
“MCC President Phil Sisson saw the buildings as a blank portrait with which we could do something that reflects the diversity of our campus,” said Vice President of Administration Patrick Cook. “We are trying to embellish and give another face to these buildings, one of which is a gateway to the city centre.
Fostering a sense of community through art is the primary goal of the mural project, but the economic benefits are also an important element, said Peter Crewe, the city’s director of cultural affairs.
“We view the murals as a community building tool as well as an economic development tool,” Crewe said. “The murals help draw people to the city centre. The expansion of the project will only contribute to the visibility of the city.
The mural installations will coincide with the Vibe Street Art Festival, which runs from August 14 to September 10. Mosaic Lowell, whose slogan is “many creatives, many cultures, one community”, is the next arts and culture economy plan for Lowell, and is supported by many city partners, including the Greater Lowell Community Foundation.
Howard Amidon, who is Mosaic Lowell’s vice president for philanthropy and also sits on the Greater Lowell Community Foundationsaid building the mural idea in neighborhoods is the next step in the arts and culture city plan.
“Great things are happening here and the more we can bring projects like the murals to neighborhoods, the better it is for our city,” he said.
Gallagher agrees, noting that “Lowell is not Sturbridge Village. We are a living, active, commercial and educational community. It’s about creating beautiful spaces.