canalway cultural district

Lowell’s Canalway Cultural District: A “Great Neighborhood”

By Dorian Taylor - Lowell's Canalway Cultural District was recently named one of this year's 15 Great Places by the American Planning Association. With a thriving art and music scene, daily cultural activities, several unique public parks, and a wide variety of restaurants, cafés and shops, it's no surprise that over 500,000 people visit the district each year. Here are some reasons to visit, or revisit, the Canalway Cultural District.


The Worker by Elliot and Ivan Schwartz (1985)

Thriving Arts Community

It's not very hard to find beautiful art in Lowell. Spread out across the Canalway Cultural District are more than a dozen public art installations that reflect the city's culture and history including the Homage to Women and The Worker statues. There are also 12 excellent museums and art galleries in the district, such as the New England Quilt Museum, Brush Art Gallery & Studios, Gallery Z Artist Co-op, the Arts League of Lowell and the Whistler House Museum of Art.

Lowell's music scene has also gained traction over the years, and today visitors and locals can find live music playing every week in the District at various cafes, restaurants, art galleries and other venues. In addition to music and fine art, theater performances are also a staple in the district. The Lowell Memorial Auditorium, the Merrimack Repertory Theatre and MCC's new Academic Arts Center are excellent venues to see musicals, comedies, dramas and music.


Lowell Folk Festival

Daily Cultural Activities

With over 100 free public and private events, performances and activities, there is always something to do in the Canalway Cultural District. Along with 20 annual festivals, such as City of Lights and the Lowell Folk Festival, there are regular live music performances, movie screenings, children's programs, intimate gallery openings, athletic events and much more.

To see an updated calendar of fun and interesting activities to do in the city visit: www.likelowell.com/calendar


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Shopping and Dining

There are 60 eateries, coffee shops, and restaurants in the Canalway Cultural District offering an extensive variety of cuisine and flavors that reflect Lowell's diverse culture. On top of a great dining selection, many of these restaurants are conveniently located within walking distance to performance venues and one-of-a-kind shopping destinations. Before or after your meal, be sure to explore the district's unique shops and check to see where live music is playing to keep the good times going.


Lucy Larcom Park

Public Parks

The District includes several public parks, each with unique landscapes and features. If you're feeling up for a walk, explore the district's Riverwalk for scenic views of the city and the Merrimack River. If you're looking for a spot to relax, stop by the Whistler House Park or Lucy Larcom Park to catch up with a friend, read a book, or just take in the views. Be sure to stop by the Lowell National Park Service Visitor Center to pick up maps, make trolley tour reservations, and plan a great visit to the city.


The Lowell Public Art Collection: Past, Present, and Future

The Lowell public art collection that we know today began to take its shape during the 1980’s when six works of public art were installed between the years 1984-1989. Lowell native and Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas was key to this boom in public art as he sponsored several pieces and created a public art committee in 1987 to explore new ways to present public art in the city. During these formative years, the Lowell public art collection had become one of the country’s most important visual arts projects.

“Pawtucket Prism” by Michio Ihara (1989)

“Pawtucket Prism” by Michio Ihara (1989)

Before Lowell was the public museum that we know and love today, the city’s only public art consisted only of traditional monuments, statues and murals like many other cities had at the time. During the late eighties however, the city introduced several contemporary art pieces such as the “Homage to Women,” “The Lowell Sculptures,” and the recently restored “Pawtucket Prism.” Installing six public art pieces between ’84 and ’89 was an impressive accomplishment for the City of Lowell and the result was a collection of art that not only visually enhances the city, but reflects Lowell’s rich history and culture.

George L. Duncan Fountains (2012)

George L. Duncan Fountains (2012)

In recent years, the city has added several more pieces to its diverse public art collection, each having their own unique theme and relation to Lowell. With hydraulic systems playing such a vital role in Lowell’s industrial era, Enterprise Bank added a public art installation in 2012 that mirrored the cities canals, spillways, and waterfalls. The result was the George L. Duncan Fountains, which consists of three weathering steel stacks, each slightly modified to move water differently.

New Mural Decatur Way (2018)

New Mural Decatur Way (2018)

In 2016 the Decatur Way Path was established to display local artists’ murals, poetry installations and other artwork. These artists include students from 26 local schools, UMass Lowell Art Prof. Stephen Mishol, poet Paul Marion, muralists Donald Maker and Kurt Ledoux of Lowell, and artist Liz LaManche of Boston.  This blend of art pays homage to Lowell’s impressive mills and canal ways like many of the past installations do, but it represents the city’s modern culture and values today as well.

Lowell Street Piano. Art by Margo Thach (2018) - Photo Courtesy of Karen Frederick

Lowell Street Piano. Art by Margo Thach (2018) - Photo Courtesy of Karen Frederick

The latest edition to Lowell’s ever expanding public art collection is also an instrument. In October of 2018, the city unveiled its first Street Piano to support the city’s growing music and art scene. The piano was donated to the city by Lowell Resident Paul Belley, and has been transformed into a work of art itself by local artist Margo Thach. Thach has designed the piano with gold accents that capture several themes of Lowell, including a textile mill, the City Hall clock tower and images of Cambodian culture.

Concept art for “Hydro”

Concept art for “Hydro”

The development of Utopia Park located in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District has provided the necessary space for another special public art installation. Artist Nancy Selvage was chosen to create “Hydro,” a large stainless steel fixture with a fluid, abstract design that resembles Lowell’s natural waterfalls and its turbine waterfalls as well. The project is being led by the Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL) in partnership with the city, Lowell National Historical Park and others.

Foundation of “Hydro”

Foundation of “Hydro”

Embark on a Canal Boat Adventure

If you’ve been searching for a way to enjoy this beautiful weather and learning about Lowell’s rich history, you absolutely need to go on a canal boat tour! The tours are provided by the Lowell National Historical Park and are a great way to see how the waterways have supported Lowell’s historical development and growth throughout the years. I just so happened to go on the Working the Water Tour on one of the hottest days of the year (so far,) and it was nice to be on the water for a bit with a nice breeze!

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The tour starts on the platform outside the visitor’s center at 246 Market Street. The park ranger who is leading your tour will give an introduction about what you will be experiencing and some background information before heading to the trolley which brings you to the boat.

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Allison was the Park Ranger who led the tour I was on, and she was answering questions right from the start. Throughout the tour, Allison passed around pictures of how the canals appeared in their early years, maps of the canal system, and of the men who dug the canals or had important roles in canal history.

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Not only was the tour filled with historical facts, but we also got to see a reenactment of how the Swamp Lock gate was manually opened and closed for those passing through.  A sign with the toll prices was another piece that was really cool to see; for some reason it never occurred to me that boats paid tolls too!

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One of the interesting visuals that Allison pointed out as we were going through the canal was that one side was made with stones fitted together and the other side was made with cement blocks. The cement, a more recent improvement, was breaking apart while the stones were solid and looked like they could be just a few years old.

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The tour did not end when we stepped off the boat. Allison continued to give information about canal history and the influence and impact that it has had on Lowell. The tour ended with a trolley ride back to the visitor’s center on Market Street, which is just a short walk away from many unique cafes and restaurants, a perfect way to wrap up your day in the Canalway Cultural District. Check out the dining guide here.

Snow Fun in the City

Now that the first snow of the season has fallen and the city is covered in a blanket of white, there’s a few ways that you can make the most of the change in weather and enjoy fun times ahead.  From taking walks to sledding, there’s plenty to do in the city after the snow falls.


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Take a Walk on the Waterways:

The city’s waterways can be a great place to enjoy a walk in the snow.  The Lowell National Historical Park’s Waterways give you four distinct trails.  Start with the Heritage Hike and explore the history and culture of the city’s storied “Acre” neighborhood.  Then, walk the Redevelopment Rove where historic mill complexes and canalside spaces are now vibrant neighborhoods.   Next, there’s the Waterpower Walk along which lock chambers, gatehouses, turbine pits and dams celebrate the innovations that changed modern industry.  The longest trail, the Riverwalk Ramble, allows you to take a stroll along the Merrimack River and see the views from the Boott Cotton Mills to LeLacheur Park.  Look at the park’s trail map for more information.


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Enjoy Recreational Activities in the State Forest:

With over 1,000 acres to explore, the Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest is a splendid location to take a hike or do more outdoor recreational activities in the snow.  Through 6 miles of trails, you can enjoy hiking as well as other activities such as trail running, snowmobiling, skiing and more.  There’s plenty of sightseeing to do as well, with views of ponds and wetlands providing a scenic panorama of the regional woodland.  Forest animals from beavers to deer can also make an appearance so the trail is also great for nature photography and can serve as inspiration for artists as well.  To see the full possibilities, the trail map offers more information.


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Go Sledding and Snowshoeing in Neighborhood Parks:

New snow brings fun activities that the whole family can enjoy and neighborhood parks are the perfect places for recreation.  If you’re a fan of sledding or snow tubing, Shedd Park on Rogers Street and the Christian Hill Reservoir are locations to enjoy this fun activity with friends and family.  With over 50 acres, Shedd Park offers plenty of space for such activities and can also serve as a source for other recreational fun such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  

So, these pastimes can present new traditions to enjoy winter weather and help you discover other recreational opportunities in your local neighborhood parks.


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Other Fun Activities:

Live performances are an entertaining way to enjoy the snow for those looking for other forms of recreation.  Plus, the city’s social scene calls for a night filled with laughter, joy and company.  So if you’re looking for humor, Mondo Monday returns to The Luna Theater on December 18th and The Hearing Room introduces their first ever Amateur Comedy Night on Friday, December 29th.  For more entertainment, there’s also the Acoustic Bluegrass Jam this Friday, December 15th and the Great American Songbook on Sunday, December 17th at The Hearing Room where acoustic instruments and traditional jazz are featured.

Four Festive Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

The holidays are an exciting and joyful way to spend time with family and friends and rejoice on all of the wonders of life.  Whether you’re looking for fun activities or you’re still looking for the perfect holiday gift, there’s much to do in the city this time of year.  Here are four festive ways to celebrate the holidays:


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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Movie Classics!

Watching movies is a great way to enjoy time with family and friends.  Not only can these films bring you joy, they have the ability to bring out the holiday spirit in anyone.

Step out for a night in the city and enjoy Ralphie Parker and his family’s holiday adventures in the 1983 classic A Christmas Story which will be playing at The Luna Theater on Sunday, December 10th.  Clarence gets his wings in It’s a Wonderful Life at the Pollard Memorial Library on December 15th and at The Luna Theater on December 16th.  Don’t get stuck "Home Alone" and catch Chris Columbus’ beloved comedy classic at The Luna Theater on December 24th.


Photo by Meghan Moore

Photo by Meghan Moore

Celebrate with Music and Theater

Traditions such as music and tales about discovering the marvels of the season are great opportunities to enjoy the holidays and make new memories.

Running from now to December 24th, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic that is bound to bring out the festive in anyone.  There’s more holiday fun for all ages on Saturday, December 9th at the Pollard Memorial Library for Jingle Jam.  Then, experience orchestral entertainment on Saturday, December 9th at the Lowell Philharmonic Orchestra Holiday Concert.  If you’re looking for more local orchestras, join the UMass Lowell String Project’s Winter Showcase on Thursday, December 14th.  There’s also the 2017 Holiday Pops Tour, coming to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, December 17th, that captures the magic of the holidays with their signature Sleigh Ride and other classic holiday music.


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Deck the Halls with Art and Treasures

The arts can be another great place to look for inspiration.  The various shows and receptions available not only provide you with a look into the local art scene, but also enhance your holiday experience with activities that can become new traditions.

Join Western Avenue Studios (WAS) for their Holiday Open Studios on Saturday and Sunday, December 9th and 10th for endeavors that include browsing art, speaking with artists, and purchasing unique gifts.  The Arts League of Lowell is displaying their Holiday Treasures Members’ Show reception on Saturday, December 9th where special holiday-themed art treasures can be purchased.  Loading Dock Gallery’s show, Winter Lights: Gifts for the Holidays, will run to Sunday, December 31st and features hand-made products from soaps to furniture.  There’s also Ayers Loft Gallery’s Peace on Earth members’ show reception on Saturday, December 9th.  This show, which will run to Thursday, January 4th, is a reminder of the joyful times ahead while shining a light on local artists and their work.


Photo courtesy of The Vintage Witch

Photo courtesy of The Vintage Witch

Walkin' in a Crafty Wonderland

Holiday-themed markets offer creations from local artisans that might change the way you do holiday shopping and prepare for festive times, and can help you find new activities to incorporate into your holiday traditions. 

Unique gifts and art from over 30 local artists are available at WAS’ Handmade Holiday Shopping Night on Thursday, December 14th.  Then there’s The Holiday Oddity Market on Saturday, December 9th at Mill No. 5 where you can find gift options for that someone on your holiday gift list with an eccentric taste.  Do some lunchtime shopping at The Brush Art Gallery and Studios on Friday, December 15th for Soup and Shop and enjoy complimentary soup while browsing through the available art and other creative products.  Then, on Saturday, December 16th, Mill No. 5’s It’s a Wonderful Market has more vendors of vintage, handmade and artisanal goods that are perfect for the holidays.

Local Holiday Shopping Guide 2017

Shop local for the holidays, it’s a great way to get your holiday shopping done early and help small businesses grow.  Here are some recommendations of local stores where, from health and beauty to miscellaneous goods, there’s no shortage of great gifts that you can buy for loved ones this holiday season.


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Health and Beauty

If you know of someone who loves natural soaps, body butters, balms and other health and beauty products then this section is for you.

Take a trip to Mill No. 5 where you’ll find the Red Antler Apothecary which carries delightfully scented soaps that smell as great as they look along with body creams, balms, shampoos, scrubs and more.  Next, take a trip to Western Avenue Studios where Eir’s Garden offers Scandinavian-inspired soaps, lotions, creams and salves.  Finally, check out Mack Soaps for a variety of hand-made products such as soaps, aftershave, eye creams and lip balms.  These shops showcase the natural and local health and beauty products that are available to you and make great holiday gifts.


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Music and Records

Music is an essential source of entertainment for many of us and a passion for aspiring musicians.  If you have someone on your gift list that enjoys music, check out the following.

The Tone Loft at Mill No. 5 has great gifts for friends and family including new and used instruments as well as music lessons in guitar, percussion and vocals.  Near The Tone Loft is another fine shop for local music enthusiasts, Vinyl Destination.  This record store stocks vinyl records in a variety of genres.  If you’re interested in more records, there’s always Garnick’s Records on Middlesex Street where you’re likely to find records from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s ranging from classical to jazz to rock and psychedelic music. Just around the corner on Central Street is RRR Records, a used and new record shop where you'll find plenty of hidden gems. For a music lover, these stores present a chance to discover new music or a fun gift idea for more casual shoppers.


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Art and Jewelry

The city is filled with artistic talent, and local artists and jewelry makers provide art scene gift options. So, if you’re looking for locally made art products, here are some ideas.

At Van Gogh’s Gear on Market Street you can find art supplies such as brushes, paints, drawing tools and more.  If you know someone who is interested in learning, take a trip to The Cogitation Zone in Western Avenue Studios (WAS) and learn how to make pottery at one of the classes offered.  Also at WAS, there’s Lush Beads offering finished jewelry pieces, custom designs, and private lessons in beading. Also don't forget to check out Lush Industrial's fun and funky unisex jewelry made with new and repurposed hardware.  Lowell’s local museum gift shops can also help you find a special gift.  Check out the shops of the New England Quilt Museum and the gift shop at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center.  Whether you’re looking for it or not, the city’s art scene can be a great place to find a unique holiday gift this season.


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Miscellaneous Goods

Looking for other gift ideas?  Whether you’re seeking the perfect gift or you’re unsure what to get someone, the choices that these shops provide can inspire you to find something great to gift someone this holiday season.

At Mill No. 5, visit Crose Nest and discover botanical herbs, teas, stationary, jewelry and more.  Next, stop by Bon Vivant where you’ll find an array of goods such as clothing, jewelry, candles, matches and chocolate.  Sweet Pig Press carries all sorts of stationary including journals, holiday cards and banners. On Middle Street, stop by Rogers Pool Patio & Toy Co. for a variety of games, puzzles, dolls, activities and other options.  With these shops, you’re bound to find a locally sold gift that will make someone on your gift list all that more joyful this holiday season.


Lowell Fall Dining Guide 2017

By Life As A Maven - It seems that as soon as Fall arrives we all want soup, a nice warm drink and comforting food. Throughout the fall and winter in New England the flavors go between pumpkin to maple to peppermint to sage and any other myriad of seasonal combinations you want to make. In dining out, many restaurants come up with a fall/winter menu that compliment the flavors of the season and this makes it exciting for me as a food writer/blogger because I love trying new ways the flavors can be incorporated into new dishes.


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Take a Bite Out of Local Flavors
 

What makes the Canalway Cultural District a dining destination? The history in Lowell is rich and along with eating a great meal you can take in some of the surrounding sites such as the Whistler House Museum of Art, The New England Quilt Museum or the National Streetcar Museum. Because Lowell is a walkable city the restaurants and things to do around them make for a great day outing or a full weekend trip. 

Some great new restaurants have opened up recently and with this in mind I wanted to share a dining guide of my favorite spots (both new and old) to check out in the Canalway Cultural District of Lowell.

Let's get started!
 


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Cobblestones of Lowell is a historic restaurant that brings American classics to life while also providing modern takes on favorite dishes. 1981 Ramen Bar is Lowell's only Ramen spot. It offers big bowls of savory broth, noodles & toppings, great drinks & a fun atmosphere that makes for a great dining experience.


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Fabianos Pizzeria & Cafe is not just a pizzeria - they take American classics like pizza, burgers, pasta and more to a different level by incorporating Peruvian flavors. Mandarin Asian Bistro  offers delicious sushi, as well as hot dishes that make this spot ideal when you can't make up your mind - they also have great drinks and live music on the weekends.


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El Potro Mexican Bar & Grill  serves fresh, delicious Mexican food in a welcoming environment. Everyone is friendly and there is always something yummy to eat. Same is true for Lowell Burger Company which is new to the food scene in Lowell. LBC takes burgers and makes them exciting - and that special sauce is to die for! 


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Fuse Bistro is a delightful restaurant that makes delicious, unique dishes while incorporating local flavors. Their drinks are interesting, delicious and the atmosphere is always warm. Same holds true for Lowell's other new place, Warp & Weft which cooks up international comfort food. With a complete redesign of their restaurant it makes this the new go-to.

Canalway Cultural District Renewal

Following the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s approval for the renewal of the Canalway Cultural District designation, the city’s district will expand to include the west side of Dutton Street along the Suffolk Canal and the Hamilton Canal District from Thorndike Street to Central Street along the Merrimack, Lower Pawtucket and Hamilton Canals. The district creates a framework to spotlight artists, performing and fine arts organizations, historic preservation groups, creative businesses and events and festivals that are part of the community.


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Encompassing the heart of downtown Lowell and its canalway system, the district consists of preserved historical sites, cultural facilities, museums and galleries, performance venues, events and festivals that happen throughout the year. To facilitate moving through the district, way finder kiosks and brochures will be redesigned to include a map that highlights the district’s assets. The Cultural Affairs and Special Events office will also update the likelowell.com website with new district information.


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District goals are to sustain and support existing artists, cultural institutions and ventures as well as encourage new cultural development, economic activity and new job creation. As a result of the restoration of most of Lowell’s historic mills and buildings, the district’s promotional success can lead to the redevelopment of remaining structures. Continued success can aid in strengthening the identity of the city and celebrating its history, diverse communities, arts and culture.


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The canalway features 5.3 miles of functioning canals and were used to power the city’s mills during the Industrial Revolution. Today, the system creates electrical power as well as provides links for Lowell National Historic Park boat tours, showcases public art and can be used as a palette for special lighting of gatehouses and flowing waters. Along these canals, historic buildings and mills have been restored for commercial, residential, artistic and professional uses. Other businesses —coffee and pizza shops, restaurants, diners and retailers—are also located within the district.


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The district includes the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell Memorial Auditorium, New England Quilt Museum, Whistler House Museum of Art, Brush Art Gallery and Studios, the Lowell National Historical Park and more. District events include open studios, gallery shows and festivals such as the Lowell Folk Festival, Summer Music Series, Kerouac Festival, Winterfest and many others. Upcoming events and festivals hosted in the district are sure to continue to celebrate the creative and historic aspects that make the city a diverse hub for arts and culture.

Even More Reasons Why Lowell is Heaven for Creatives

Art entrepreneurs create opportunities, jobs, culture, products and services that help drive our economy. With over 600 artists and makers residing in Lowell, the city has a great infrastructure that provides invaluable support to the creative community. (Read the first part of the article here).
 

1. Creative Resources

Over the last 10 years the Lowell Cultural Council Program (LCC) has supported hundreds of community-based projects in the arts, humanities and sciences annually allocating funding within the Lowell community on behalf of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. These funds provide economic support for community events that reach residents of all ages. This year alone the LCC funded 42 projects for a total of $61,645.

Pictured above is Barbara Poole's 'Veils of Color', a public art project funded by the LCC.

Pictured above is Barbara Poole's 'Veils of Color', a public art project funded by the LCC.

2. DIY Community

The spirit of do-it-yourself is alive and well in the city. Organizations like DIY Lowell, a citizen-led initiative that connects and empowers Lowellians, are essential to creating positive change. Residents can submit ideas and implement small-scale community projects to enhance the quality of life in the city's neighborhoods.

For PARK(ing) Day Lowell, DIY Lowell and the National Historical Park transformed three metered parking spaces on Merrimack Street into a pop-up park for the day.

For PARK(ing) Day Lowell, DIY Lowell and the National Historical Park transformed three metered parking spaces on Merrimack Street into a pop-up park for the day.

3. Cultural Partnerships

The Cultural Organization of Lowell provides information, advocacy and services to individuals, organizations, institutions and agencies involved with the local creative economy. Commonly known by the acronym "COOL" this nonprofit plays a key role in the city helping to strengthen the vitality and economic growth of arts and culture in Lowell. 

4. Makers Culture

As the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, Lowell continues to attract makers and innovators. Organizations like Lowell Makes are succeeding in efforts to bring together local artists, engineers, makers and thinkers to provide the tools and learning resources where individuals can gain and practice modern skills with a community of creative-minded people making all kinds of things.

5. Inspired Innovation

The first of its kind in Massachusetts, New Vestures is a fashion and textiles co-working makerspace. Founded in 2012 by artist, designer & educator, Diana Coluntino, New Vestures aims to support a community of fashion designers, entrepreneurs and innovators who believe that creative, sustainable apparel, textile design and manufacturing practices will improve lives and better the world. 


For more information on these organizations and more public arts attractions in Lowell, please visit likelowell.com.