By David Perry
With the help of local gallery owners, the university’s artistic ventures are increasingly coloring the way people see Lowell.
This winter, the work of art and design undergraduates, faculty and alumni has bloomed around the city, with exhibitions at four local galleries. Students also had a hand in curating the exhibits, hanging the work and designing signage for the shows.
“This type of cooperation between the university and community brings an exciting and unique transgenerational vitality to the downtown. I look forward to the chance to build on it,” says Stephen Mishol, an associate professor of art & design.
“Having four UMass Lowell art exhibits currently featured in Lowell’s downtown galleries highlights the depth of the university’s and the city’s creative assets,” says Henri Marchand, the city’s director of cultural affairs and special events. “Lowell is blessed with a rich cultural life and a creative farm system that includes the opportunity for the public to experience artworks by UMass Lowell students, alumni and faculty.”
The four shows include “Burning Minds” at the Arts League of Lowell (ALL) Gallery, “UMass Lowell Printmakers” at the Lowell Telecommunications gallery, “Voice & Vision” at the Ayer Lofts Art Gallery and the UML faculty art show at The Brush Art Gallery & Studios.
“I think this happening is super-cool,” says UML printmaking instructor Laurel McMechan, who is curating the LTC printmaking exhibit. “Over the last few years, there’s been a lot more arts programming in Lowell, and UML is more involved.”
Jennifer Vivier, the senior art major behind the Burning Minds exhibit, believes the arts thrive when there’s a strong connection between the community and the university.
“It’s important for both the city and the university to have these kinds of projects going. It definitely makes both places better,” Vivier says. “Being a resident, and being from here, I felt strongly about connecting to my community.”
As a student, Vivier has immersed herself in the city’s art scene. She reached out to ALL director Mary Hart in the fall of 2016 to discuss tapping into the expertise and experience of ALL’s community of artists. She and Hart began discussing Burning Minds last summer. “We ended up with an exhibit featuring 36 students,” says Vivier. “Initially, they submitted 95 pieces, which is amazing. And it’s large and small, a wide array of mediums, from sculpture and ceramics to mixed media, photography and paint.”
UMass Lowell’s art & design program has gained a national reputation for the success of its graduates. Most recently, the university was No. 1 on PayScale.com’s Best Value Colleges for Art Careers ranking, based on return on investment and career potential.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for all the participating artists, especially our students,” said Mishol. “Bringing their work off campus and into the community like this is an exciting moment for them as young artists. I know from speaking with many of them that they have been both impressed and moved by this generous gesture.”
Mishol co-founded the Arts Research Collaborative (ARC) on Prescott Street in downtown Lowell, which was established in part to offer UML students a chance to bring contemporary artists and the UML arts community together. ARC has long shown the work of UML art students as well as nationally recognized artists, including most recently an exhibit featuring the work of alumna Jessica Tawczynski ’14.
McMechan says one side benefit is showing young artists there’s a place for them in the community after graduation.
“The fact that artists/designers can continue to program and stay here whether they have roots here or not, that’s important for the city. It also gives people pride in this place. It teaches students that there is art in the real world and places to do it, and they can graduate and get involved. That gives them a stake in the place.”