LOWELL — Good things are happening in Lowell this summer. And some of those good things are going to be six stories high and almost 100 feet long.
During the month of August, seven murals will be painted on buildings across Lowell neighborhoods including three in the Downtown area, two in Back Central and one each in The Acre and Pawtucketville.
The outdoor public art joins the two murals that were painted last summer.
“This isn’t just about murals going up and being a flash in the pan, this is about full-scale community building,” Project LEARN Executive Director LZ Nunn said.
The nonprofit offers innovative educational programs for students and young people in Lowell and has spearheaded the mural effort.
Nunn spoke during a roundtable discussion of the project with The Sun’s editorial board, hosted by Michael Gallagher at his law offices at Shattuck Street. Right next door to Gallagher & Cavanaugh is the Athenian Corner restaurant, whose four-story brick wall was transformed by one of the inaugural artworks painted last summer.
In 2019, Project LEARN (Lowell Educational Alliance Resource Network) and local partners collaborated to launch ArtUp Lowell, “a youth-arts and place-making initiative designed to create dynamic and culturally relevant art in public spaces to celebrate and engage Lowell’s diverse communities.”
Out of that collaboration came 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, a Dominican fine artist, graphic designer and activist. His 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 of the Athenian Corner at Market and Shattuck streets in Lowell’s Historic District.
Hundreds of young people participated in dialogues with the artists, and interns for Project LEARN scouted potential future locations and talked with area residents about the murals.
Youth participation for this year’s mural project is being organized by ArtUp Lowell through a teacher task force, which will include participation stipends. The task force will help spearhead mural-themed projects with local educators to design lesson plans, poetry slams, art competitions and other creative ideas for classrooms this fall. ArtUp is also recruiting paid artist production assistants and site captains during the mural projects.
The vision of this year’s project continues the celebration of cultural diversity of Lowell, Nunn said, and involves more than 30 partners.
The roundtable featured community leaders from organizations including Mosaic Lowell, Middlesex Community College, Western Avenue Studios and Curation 250, the city’s Cultural Affairs & Special Events department, City Manager Tom Golden as well as many nonprofit community groups.
A quiet but powerful presence behind the project was Lowell philanthropist and arts 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 additional seven murals will expand the art footprint across the city. But the size, scale and quality of the project required technical expertise from Beyond Walls, described as a nonprofit “placemaking agency that uses a creative lens to address community needs.”
The group has collaborated on coordinating the painting of murals on 72 buildings across the city of Lynn. They managed the selection process for this year’s artists and will oversee its implementation.
“In March, we put out a call for artists,” Beyond Walls Art Director Charlotte Maher said. “We had 200 applications, more than 50 were from Massachusetts, and more than 20 had connections to Lowell. We presented these applications to an artist review panel, which included the ArtUp coalition.”
From that artist call, 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 out of the Western Avenue Studios. Tuttle’s work is well known for her focus on environmentalism, conservationism and drawing awareness, conversation and dialogue around endangered species.
• Bryan Beyung is a visual artist from Montreal, Canada, who was born to a Chinese-Cambodian family. His mural will adorn the back of the 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 visible on 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 Middle Street.
• Cambodian artist Fonki was born in France to parents who were refugees of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. His mural building canvas is to be announced.
• Angurria will expand his 2021 mural to encompass the entire back wall of the building at CTI.
“Representation matters. The first two murals were by a Puerto Rican and a Dominican artist, which are the majority of the Afro-Latinx community in Lowell,” CTI Chief Program Officer Carl Howell said. “Having amazing art in their community that reflects their culture brings community engagement because residents are seeing themselves represented in skill and in the art.”
Middlesex Community College was an early supporter of the idea. Its 18 buildings across the Lowell and Bedford campuses provide a ready canvas for the large-scale art.
“Phil Sisson, MCC’s president, saw the buildings as a blank portrait that we could do something with that reflected the diversity of our campus,” Vice President of Administration Patrick Cook said. “We’re trying to beautify and present a different face to these buildings, one of which is a gateway to the Downtown.”
Fostering a sense of community through art is the primary goal of the mural project, but the economic benefits are an important piece, too, said Peter Crewe, the city’s cultural affairs director.
“We see the murals as a community-building tool as well as an economic-development tool,” Crewe said. “The murals are working to help draw people back downtown. The expansion of the project is only going to help with visibility of the city.”
The mural installations will coincide with the Vibe Street Art Festival, which runs Aug. 14 to Sept. 10. Mosaic Lowell, whose tagline is “many creatives, many cultures, one community,” is the next arts and cultural economy plan for Lowell, and is supported by many city partners including the Greater Lowell Community Foundation.
Howard Amidon, who is the vice president for philanthropy of Mosaic Lowell and also serves on the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, said building out the mural idea into the neighborhoods is the next step in the arts and culture city plan.
“Tremendous things are happening here and the more we can bring projects like the murals out into the neighborhoods, the better for our city,” he said.
Gallagher agrees, noting that “Lowell isn’t Sturbridge Village. We’re a living breathing, working, commercial and educational community. This is all about creating beautiful spaces.”