From a Kinetic Sculpture Race to Pickleball, the Mill City is Your Playground

A pirate-themed bicycle-powered vehicle crosses a bridge Image by Ed Brennen
Pedal-powered pirate ships, pink flamingos and rubber duckies will be racing through campus during the annual Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race on Saturday, Sept. 16.

By Ed Brennen

With so much to do on campus at UMass Lowell – 250-plus clubs and organizations, Division I sporting events, live performances, the list goes on – it’s easy to forget that there’s a very cool city all around you.
But don’t sleep on Lowell. Between its vibrant music and arts scene, its must-try restaurants, its all-inclusive culture and its iconic backstory as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, the Mill City adds a whole new dimension to the college experience.
That’s especially true during the month of September, when the weather is still warm and the city is brimming with things for students, as well as faculty and staff, to see and do. 
“September is an exciting time for the university community,” Chancellor Julie Chen says. “Our students bring an energy with them when they return to campus, and they will find the city is packed with events where they can have fun, make friends and be a part of the vibrancy of Lowell.”  
Here are some of the September highlights. For more, check out our In The City page.
Creativity on parade
If you wake up on Saturday, Sept. 16, and see pedal-powered pirate ships, pink flamingos and rubber duckies racing across campus, don’t be alarmed: It’s the annual Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race, a TikTok-worthy spectacle that you have to see to believe.
People dressed in banana suits dance in the street Image by Ed Brennen
The Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race officials are hard to miss in their banana suits.
Starting downtown on Market Street at 11 a.m., an array of all-terrain, human-powered sculptures built from bicycles, kayaks and recycled materials traverses a seven-mile course that includes portions of the UML campus. Be sure to check out the “Maddening Mud Pit” near the Tsongas Center and the plunge into the Merrimack River at Heritage State Park.
Race Director Michael Roundy, an assistant teaching professor of art and design in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, helped bring the event to Lowell in 2016. Participants come from all over and usually include teams of UMass Lowell students.
Culture 101
For two centuries, Lowell has been a gateway city for immigrants and refugees. (Fun fact: Lowell has the second largest Cambodian American population in the country, behind only Long Beach, California.)
For a crash course in this rich diversity, check out “One City, Many Cultures,” an interactive exhibit opening this month at Lowell National Historical Park’s Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center (40 French St.). There will be an opening ceremony and celebration on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Boarding House Park (outside the center), featuring music, performances and more.
A woman with dark hair extends her arm to the camera while dancing on an outdoor stage Image by courtesy
The Lowell Hispanic & Latinx Festival is on Saturday, Sept. 30 at the North Common.
More than 100 community members – including Distinguished University Prof. Robert Forrant and Sue Kim, associate dean for the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – contributed to the exhibit, which immerses you in sights, sounds, touches and even smells.  
There are also several cultural festivals on tap, including:
  • India Heritage Fest, Saturday, Sept. 9, from noon to 6:30 p.m. at Lowell Heritage State Park (160 Pawtucket Blvd.)
  • Lowell Irish Festival, Saturday, Sept. 23, from noon to 10 p.m. at Lowell Memorial Auditorium (50 East Merrimack St.)
  • Lowell Hispanic & Latinx Festival, Saturday, Sept. 30, from noon to 8 p.m. at the North Common (415 Fletcher St.)
  • Flag raising ceremonies are held throughout the year at City Hall (375 Merrimack St.) to commemorate Lowell’s many cultures. Brazil will be honored on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 5:30 p.m. and El Salvador on Friday, Sept. 15, at 2 p.m.
Major history
Three people walk in a brick plaza toward a sign that says "visitor center" Image by courtesy
The Lowell National Parks Visitor Center hosts Lowell Talks: Qualms for the Poor on Sunday, Sept. 10.
Lowell’s history is all around you, from its old textile mills to the canals that once powered them. And there are plenty of ways to learn about it, including:
  • On Sunday, Sept. 10, at 2 p.m., check out Lowell Talks: Qualms for the Poor at the Lowell National Parks Visitor Center (246 Market St.). The community conversation will explore the complex story of poverty in Lowell, from the early days of the city “poor farm” to contemporary initiatives to combat homelessness.
  • Take a free walking tour of Lowell Cemetery (77 Knapp Ave.), one of the oldest garden cemeteries in the country, on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 10-11:30 a.m. 
  • The National Streetcar Museum at Lowell (25 Shattuck St.) is open on weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Pickles, tacos, salsa, etc.
  • Find out what the pickleball hype is all about – or brush up on your game – with UML faculty, staff, students and community members on Wednesday, Sept. 20, from 5-8 p.m. at Shedd Park (corner of Boylston and Rogers streets). There will be a court for beginners and another for competitive games. Paddles and balls will be available. Email to reserve your spot.
  • The Lowell Taco Stroll, running until Friday, Sept. 8, features taco specials at a half-dozen local restaurants. Sink your teeth into buffalo tender tacos, Irish tacos, vegetarian breakfast tacos, or even tofu taco eggrolls.
  • Kick up your heels with some salsa dancing. Panela Restaurant (525 Market St.) offers free lessons on the first and third Thursday of the month, as well as salsa dancing every Thursday night from 8:30 p.m. to midnight.
  • Pick up some fresh fruits and veggies at Mill City Grows’ Harvest Celebration on the Farm on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 1-4 p.m. at 1001 Pawtucket Blvd. 
  • Show everyone how smart you are at a trivia night: Mondays at 6:30 p.m. at Tremonte (44 Palmer St.); Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. at The Old Court (29-31 Central St.); and Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. at Dragonfly Café (165 Thorndike St.).
  • Check out the Lowell Chess Club, which plays Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. at Pollard Memorial Library (401 Merrimack St.) and Sundays at 1 p.m. at Mill No. 5 (250 Jackson St.)
Take 5
Two people look at records while two other people walk down a hallway lined with shops Image by courtesy
There are all kinds of things to do - and buy - at Mill No. 5.
How many cities have “an indoor streetscape of salvaged storefronts with great coffee, a movie theater, farmer’s market and independent shopping”? That’s what you’ll find at Mill No. 5 (250 Jackson St), where upcoming events include:
  • A free screening of “The Graduate” on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. at the Luna Theater, presented by UMass Lowell’s Philosophy Department. Seats are first come, first served, and the screening will be followed by a discussion.
  • A free screening of “Precious” on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Luna Theater. 
  • Spins and Needles DJ night from 6-9 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at Coffee and Cotton.
  • Variety Show, hosted by Martian Radio Theatre, from 6-8 p.m. on the fourth or last Friday of the month at Coffee and Cotton.
  • The Farm Market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the fourth floor.
Listen up
In the mood for some live music? You’ve come to the right city:
  • Taffeta at Western Avenue Studios (122 Western Ave.) hosts shows all month long, including the “What Happens in College Stays in College” tour on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. and Royale Lynn on Thursday, Sept. 14, also at 7.
  • The 42nd annual Banjo & Fiddle Contest is on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Boarding House Park (40 French St.). Admission is free.
  • The Lowell Chamber Orchestra has a free “Miniature Symphonies” performance on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Donahue Arts Center (240 Central St.). 
Keep it clean
What better way to become part of the community than by volunteering to help improve it? The Lowell Litter Krewe is a nonprofit organization that hosts volunteer community cleanups around the city. You can join them on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon (meeting at UML’s Cumnock Hall); Saturday, Sept. 16, all day during the Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race (sign up at; and Saturday, Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon (meeting at Davidson Street) for National Public Lands Day.