Creativity in Action: Lowell's Renaissance

In the past thirty years, Lowell has seen an incredible amount of growth and revitalization. Part of the reason? Creativity.


WHERE: Downtown Lowell

WHEN: The city’s urban renewal began in the 1970s through historical preservation and city planning efforts. Public and private investment in Lowell’s revitalization continues today.

Leaders in local government, business, community development organizations and passionate residents of Lowell and the surrounding communities.

WHY: Known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, Lowell’s textile industry thrived until the 1920s and 1930s. Like other historic urban cities in Massachusetts, the city struggled economically due to a decline in manufacturing, deindustrialization and resulting unemployment. In the 1970s, the city changed its focus and embraced preservation as a key strategy for renewal and economic growth. In 1998 Lowell created an arts overlay district as a means of restoring vitality to the city’s historical downtown. 

IMPACT: Each year, half a million people come to visit the Lowell National Historical Park and to explore the 5.6-mile canal system. Every July, the Lowell Folk Festival attracts over 110,000 attendees to celebrate traditional music, ethnic food, and crafts.

Lowell’s renaissance is being led by a growing group of visual, literary, and performing artists who are establishing their workspaces and opening their own galleries in the city. As Susan Halter, Director of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for the City and the Cultural Organization of Lowell, notes, “Lowell actively worked to attract artists to the city in the 80’s, and recently we’ve seen a groundswell of activity that includes the addition of 2 floors of studio space at Western Ave., the development of artists live/work space at Appleton Mills and Western Ave Lofts, 2 new galleries moving downtown, and planning for major public art pieces in the new Hamilton Canal District.” Artists are flocking to affordable spaces in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods and making a positive impact. The city now boasts 83 creative businesses in downtown Lowell. 

In August 2012, the Massachusetts Cultural Council announced Lowell’s “Canalway Cultural District” as part of the Cultural Districts Initiative. The Canalway Cultural District includes major downtown cultural institutions like the Lowell National Historical Park, the Whistler House Museum of Art, the Brush Art Gallery and Studios, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, the ALL Arts Gallery, the world-renowned Angkor Dance Troupe, Boarding House Park, UnchARTed, and the Zeitgeist Gallery. This state designation helps cement the Lowell’s identity as a cultural center and is designed to foster the city’s creative economy and growth.

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