Gates Block (web photo courtesy of LHS Photo)
The massive, exuberant crowd at the official opening of the Arts League of Lowell (ALL) Gallery confirmed again that art-making is one of the city’s top enterprises. The spacious exhibition and sales gallery occupies most of the first floor of the Gates Block (1881), 307 Market Street, a prime example of a Victorian Commercial-style building that was built for Joshua Gates and Sons’ leather goods company, which thrived there until 1909. Before the Gates Block, Lowellians would find at this address Waugh and Nealy’s West India Goods Store, and later Entwhistle’s cotton machinery production firm. At some point a Greek newspaper was published at this location. More recently, Merrimack Rug and Linoleum held this building and the corner building at Market and Dutton. High-profile developer Nicholas Sarris of Lowell is renovating the four-story Gates Block as a multi-purpose arts center that will include artist studios on the upper floors. (Read Kathleen Pierce’s 2012 article in the Boston Globe about the city’s re-energized visual arts scene.)
The gathering last night reminded me of another artists co-op, Art Alive!, whose dozens of members shared a gallery in a former fabric store on Merrimack Street across from St. Anne’s Church. The space was donated by Lowell National Historical Park until the non-historic building was removed. Photographer Kevin Harkins and painters Janet Lambert-Moore and Richard Marion were at the opening last night, living links to Art Alive! of the early 1980s. The event last night was an Art Alive! happening times five, with a large percentage of ALL’s 200-plus members in attendance, along with friends; colleagues from Western Avenue Studios, The Brush Gallery, UnchARTed, 119 Gallery, Whistler House Museum of Art, and Zeitgeist; patrons of the arts, and familiar Lowell “culture vultures.” The place had a big-city buzz with live music, heaping food stations, and lots of talk. Around the back of the gallery is the new home of Steve Syverson’s Van Gogh’s Gear art-supplies shop, making this a convenient one-stop for viewing and loading up on paints, paper, and more.
One section of the gallery is a co-op space for sales by members who rent by the foot (there is a waiting list already), while another area is exhibition space. For the opening, the special exhibit featured works from private collections in the city (Martha Mayo, Jack Moynihan & Carolyn Walsh, Charles DeWan , Mary Ann Kearns & Walter Wright, Darren End & Bill Reedy, Enterprise Bank & Trust, and Gallagher & Cavanaugh). This was a brilliant decision, emphasizing the importance of patronage in sustaining fine arts in Lowell. The featured artists in the collectors’ show are numerous, from Meredith Fife Day and Lieby Miedema Bouchard to Tony Sampas and Jim Higgins.
Congratulations to everyone involved in turning an idea into reality. ALL has been persistent and inventive in its efforts to make a larger place for artists and art downtown. With this new home, the members have an opportunity to settle in and turn their full attention to making art instead of worrying where they may have to move to next. The gallery and studios will complement the Whistler House Museum of Art around the corner on Worthen Street. The Gates Block is destined to be a creative hot-spot. Lowell’s creative industries continue to grow. In the city, one can sense a synergy between the increase in creative places and the expansion of community gardening. I think these two movements are related and say much about people’s commitment to Lowell. The attitude is positive. The energy is locally generated. The outcomes feed us in important ways.