This was the second Day of Service following an 2019 event at the House of Wise Words School in Tijuana following the San Diego-Tijuana Fall Study Tour. A day of painting and planting was so successful that the school requested a return in 2020, supported by an Alumni Council Grant, for help creating a master site and programming plan.
The intellectual electricity generated in the Loeb Fellowship 50th Reunion weekend in October came to ground in a Day of Service the following Monday in Lowell, Massachusetts. Some 20 Loeb alumni and affiliates converged at Project Learn, an educational foundation directed by LZ Nunn ’13 and the locus of an initiative to promote the city’s vitality through public art—ArtUp. The Loebs were there for a deeper understanding of the city and to generate ideas and locales for creative placemaking initiatives in the Acre and Upper Merrimack neighborhoods.
A scaffold of strategic planning
Adopted in 2013, the plan known as Sustainable Lowell 2025 established a framework for development and a comprehensive shared vision for the future of the city. The creators recognized that the objectives for sustainable neighborhoods, mobility and access, vibrant hub, healthy local economy, environmental resilience, and public engagement could all be advanced through arts and culture that elevate the unique character of Lowell’s distinctive communities.
In 2019, Project LEARN launched ArtUp Lowell with more than 40 local partners to engage Lowell’s many diverse communities and install dynamic, vibrant, and culturally relevant art in public spaces.
Creative development is being fueled further by the recent work of Mosaic Lowell, a collaboration of people, neighborhoods, businesses, and organizations from across the city. Mosaic Lowell published the 2022 Creative Economy Plan to amplify the power and reach of the city’s creatives, its cultural offerings, and the creative economy that produces them. The foundation includes 80 nonprofit organizations working in arts, culture, youth development, health, and education; over 150 restaurants; and dozens of festivals and events.
The Day of Service
The Loeb team mustered at Project Learn bright and early the morning of October 10.
To introduce the city and frame the questions, LZ was joined by Adam Baacke, assistant vice chancellor for campus development at UMass Lowell. The charge: to devise temporary interventions that make streets and open spaces more active and incorporate art and culture into changing neighborhoods.
The entire team took a bus tour of the area and split into two groups for walking tours, with Project Learn staff Mira Bookman and Autumn Kleiner on hand to answer questions. The Acre group, led by Jessica Wilson of the Lowell Planning Department, began at the Stoklosa Middle School and continued to the North Common, Murkland Elementary School, and Harmony Park.
Nate Robertson, TDI Lowell Fellow at MassDevelopment, was the guide for the second group, which toured the Upper Merrimack neighborhood, where MassDevelopment has worked with the city on its Transformative Development Initiative.
Planning Session Takeaways
Despite the different geographies, some common themes surfaced in the groups’ subsequent planning sessions. Invited to hear the results of the planning sessions were Project Learn board members Magaly Ronan and Brian Martin (who is a former city manager and mayor), city councilor Corey Robinson, Middlesex Community College president Phil Sisson; and Ellen Casazza, the owner of Curation 250.
All the visitors were struck by Lowell’s manifold advantages: beautiful historic architecture, waterways, and bridges; the rich history and distinct ethnic communities; and the wealth of existing arts programming. Some common concerns included risks of gentrification and resident displacement and the prioritization of vehicles over public and alternative forms of transportation.
There were marked similarities in the recommendations of the two planning group sessions.
Incorporate more Lowell-based creators in upcoming projects.
Execute upcoming projects during the school year to facilitate student-artist engagement.
Increase the amount of green space around the city to help eliminate heat islands and support wastewater management.
Connect the community back to its local schools to foster a strong support network for students and parents.
Improve pedestrian safety in densely populated neighborhoods, especially around school zones and parks.
One particular project idea seemed promising and achievable. Loebs zeroed in on the Stoklosa Middle School, which now turns a blank and unwelcoming face to the Acre neighborhood.
The Loeb team envisioned taking ArtUp Lowell from 2D to 3D with a façade mural that unites the school’s front entrance and the side ADA entrance and extends onto the sidewalk and into the street. The art can continue along the bridge beside the school to provide a bike lane. Additional new bike paths and parking areas would enable students to safely bike to school and help eliminate attendance barriers. Extending the existing community garden from the back of the school to the front will increase green space. Further, incorporating elements from the Stoklosa mural into smaller murals around the Acre neighborhood would help to knit the community with the school.
Additional high impact community project ideas included a Made in Lowell website, bridge painting and canal lighting, temporary parking space parklets, and an Edible Lowell project to engage the public in learning about indigenous edible plants, science, and cooking. Artful placemaking and wayfinding signage could lure visitors to explore beyond the downtown core.
The Lowell representatives expressed gratitude for the ideas and energy the Loeb team brought to Lowell. Rob Lane, who hatched the Day of Service idea and organized the Lowell event with LZ, pronounced himself satisfied with the results of the day, “It exceeded my expectations and LZ’s, both in terms of content and companionship. It’s great to all be together in a cooperative setting.”
Thank you to Autumn Kleiner and Pallavi Mande for contributing images to this article.