The article surfaced on the web yesterday, a Boston Globe Travel section report on the vibrant cultural life in Lowell, a city whose historic sector carries the designation of The Canalway Cultural District, thanks to the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Quickly, the news story by writer Patricia Harris and photographer David Lyon proliferated on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
This kind of coverage in the region’s largest Sunday newspaper, this kind of visibility, is often called “free media,” but you know it isn’t free because the attention was earned by the thousands of decisions and donations and dedicated hours of labor traced back to all the people who make the city’s cultural life “go” every day. That group includes the creative folks, the managers, the customers, civic officials, and the donors, encompassing private sector and public sector. So, thanks to everyone who set the table and made it possible for the journalists to produce such an excellent article. They did a comprehensive job, capturing everything from 119 Gallery to Western Avenue Studios, mentioning Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the New England Quilt Museum, and providing top-notch images of the city’s cultural dynamism in photographs of the interior of the Whistler House Museum of Art (showing the large copy of the iconic “Whistler’s Mother” painting to great effect) and one of the colorful studios at the Brush Gallery, among other locations.
There’s a community conversation about marketing that will pick up steam now that the holidays have been celebrated. It’s good to remember how much positive media attention the arts and history bring to Lowell over and over, whether it is the Lowell Summer Music Series, the national park boat tours, the Angkor Dance Troupe (performing for the new governor soon), Luna Theatre films, Flying Orb multi-media happenings, concerts at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, speakers like Meryl Streep and Robert Redford hosted by the university and Middlesex Community College respectively, gallery shows, the African Festival and similar events, productions by the Greater Lowell Music Theatre and Image Theatre, live music at the many pubs and clubs, author events around the city, and so much more. Forgive me if your favorite organization is not in my short list. These are examples.
The content overflows. But it is not wise to take the activity for granted. Sustaining cultural activity is a constant challenge. There is substantial momentum that can grow as more support pours in. We’ve built something big here. And there is a real pay-off in the form of (1) a more inspiring quality of life for both residents and visitors, not to mention the benefits to artists themselves; (2) increased economic vitality; and (3) an upbeat city image, which you cannot “buy” with all the paid advertising in the world if the reality doesn’t match the local promises and claims.