An article in this morning’s Boston Globe (“Boston trails other cities in arts funding”) along with the blog post I wrote last night about the history of Lowell’s Brush Gallery got me thinking about the arts in Lowell. I define “arts” broadly. It includes painters and performers but also public spaces and buildings. For that reason, I was quite pleased that the city council on Tuesday night voted for City Manager Kevin Murphy’s proposal to spend $110,000 on LED lighting for the stretch of the Merrimack Canal that borders Lucy Larcom Park. The enthusiasm for the project conveyed by Murphy and the councilors was genuine and infectious. With the unveiling of the lights set for this year’s Winterfest (February 19 & 20, 2016), we won’t have long to wait to see what the excitement is all about.
Lowell’s canals and rivers are a great resource that be better utilized as a cultural resource. In nicer weather, there are few places anywhere more picturesque than Lower Locks, Swamp Locks, or Lucy Larcom Park, and a National Park boat ride on the Pawtucket Canal is an amazing experience. But there are some places that slip from our attention. I’m thinking especially of the Riverwalk and the Northern Canal Walkway which together run from Bridge Street to School Street. Then there’s the Western Canal Walkway which runs from Dutton and Fletcher Streets besides the American Textile History Museum, all the way to upper Merrimack Street. Both of those deserve more of our attention.
Are the canals and rivers part of the arts scene in Lowell? I think they are. For that reason, I see this initiative of lighting the Merrimack Canal to be a great step forward for the city. Artificial lighting has become an essential part of our everyday lives (and for more on how that happened, be sure to read Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Dracut’s Jane Brox), but “special” lighting can be very special. We need look no farther than the smokestack of the Wannalancit Mills and its holiday Christmas tree for proof of that. This canal lighting initiative will be very special.