“Another Lowell architectural motif” by Tony Sampas
“Another Lowell architectural motif” by Tony Sampas
The Arts editor of the Boston Globe decided that the Revolving Museum of Lowell deserved a close look as it closed its doors this summer. Read the article here.
I was on the advisory committee of the Revolving Museum, not the board of directors but an advisory committee, for several years after Jerry Beck moved his cultural organization to Lowell. At the start, Jerry gave the city an injection of creative energy, enthusiasm, and ambition that did the community a lot of good. Every time a new show opened at the corner of Shattuck and Middle streets, the building was packed with people of all ages, ethnicities, races, economic levels, and other differences. Audience diversity was a hallmark of the Revolving Museum during its Lowell phase. I wasn’t in Boston for the early years, but I know what I saw in Lowell. For Jerry, there is an artist inside every one of us—and art is wherever you find it, however you see it as long as you are applying imagination and intelligence to what is being perceived.
You can read the Globe article for the complicated path down which the Museum, Jerry, and his family traveled in Lowelltown. How it looks depends on where you are standing, as the cliche goes. I’m not going to rehash or debate the details. When they brought us the Revolving Museum, City Manager John Cox along with planners Matt Coggins and Colin McNiece “moved the chains,” as Tom Brady might say, in Lowell’s results-producing effort to become the cultural hub in our part of the state. In a few days the Mass. Cultural Council leaders and others will be in Lowell for an announcement about an official cultural district in the city. From the Revolving Museum to Western Avenue Studios and 119 Gallery, Lowell has leaped forward as a visual arts hotspot since 2002. On Folk Festival weekend, festival-goers could see contemporary art at Zeitgeist, UnCharted, Arts League of Lowell, Art in the Courtyard at Market Mills, the Brush Gallery and the Parker Gallery at the Whistler House, and in the Eyeful Beauty hair salon on Middle Street. Recently, someone told me there are about 500 self-identified artists in the city, either living here or working in studios.
Hundreds of young people were empowered in their expressiveness by the TRM staff, principally Diana Coluntino, who was the institutional thread during the Lowell years. George Duncan of the Enterprise Bank turned a downtown fence into an evolving easel on Merrimack Street by trusting the creative impulses of TRM. Kudos, too, are in order for the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation directors who invested in the vision with grants that made things go for a while. We had the “big head” for a long time in the garden on Middle Street, a provocative and sometimes daffy counterpart to the silhouetted big head of Francis Cabot Lowell at Boarding House Park. We had the tape monster on Shattuck Street during the Lowell Folk Festival in the mid-2000s. We had Artbotics with scientists and artists from UMass Lowell working with kids to design robots; the National Science Foundation thought this was cool. We had Renovation Journal camped out in the cellar of TRM annex on Market St.
In the end, was it the right fit for Lowell? Think of the effort as part of the city’s research-and-development on its way to redefining itself for the 21st century. How many rockets came back to Earth before we landed two astronauts on the moon? Some of these early rockets didn’t make it off the launching pad. The Revolving Museum at least got into orbit here for a while.
When I wrote my post about last week’s cable TV gathering of City Manager Bernie Lynch and members of the local media (new and old), I omitted this exchange:
Chris Scott (Lowell Sun) to Lynch: “Would you ask for the resignation [of the members of the License Commission]?”
City Manager Lynch: “Everything is on the table.”
That was Tuesday, August 7. By the end of the week, Lynch had indeed requested the resignation of two-thirds of the Commission (Walter Bayliss and Ray Weicker) and had put forth in the City Council’s Friday night info packet the names of two individuals (Dennis Teague and Deborah Finch) as temporary commissioners to fill the – anticipated? – vacancies.
As I get older, I often (as in whenever I’m cutting the grass on a hot summer night) think there might be advantages to living downtown. Then I think of two things – loud music and obnoxious drunks – and my residential restlessness abates. There’s a constant tension between a district that mixes personal residences and late night entertainment and socializing. That was the case back in 1984 when elderly residents in the Father John’s Medicine building were introduced to Rodney’s, a very active nightclub that went in next door, and it continues to be the case nearly thirty years later.
The only way this type of mix can work is for everyone to be at the top of their games. Residents have to be tolerant of some late night noise, patrons have to be respectful of residents’ desires not to be awakened at 2 am by loud sidewalk conversations, business owners have to be conservative in their dispensing of adult beverages and the decibel level of their entertainers, and city officials have to be very aggressive in suppressing and punishing any breakdown of the rules.
Without assessing blame or responsibility, it seems like that last item hasn’t been happening as well as it should so it’s wise for the city to alter its approach. That said, forcing out sitting members of a board or commission is a very serious move. I suspect many who are praising this effort have long disagreed with the actions of the License Commission. But just to be balanced, think of an action by some other board or commission that you strongly agreed with. What if the city manager felt differently, so differently that he demanded their resignation. You would probably be outraged at such interference with the actions of an independent board.
I’m not saying that there are no circumstances under which a commission or board member could be removed prior to the expiration of an appointed term; I’m just saying that the reasons for such early removal should be particularly compelling and publicly stated with a full opportunity for the subject board member to present the other side of the story. That’s what due process is all about. How this plays out will have obvious repercussions of the downtown but will also have far-reaching implications for all boards and commissions in the city.
Here is a great video of a tour through the Lowell Canals originally posted on YouTube by thisdogblogs.