Hot Art Market in Lowell; Creative Economy Shows Strength

LZ Nunn of the City’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Special Events reports that the art market in Lowell is surprisingly strong even as the Great Recession holds back the economy in general. Lowell has hundreds of artists of all kinds. Each one is a small business even if that’s not how people always think of artists. Whether it is Steve O’Connor selling a book of short stories, Tom Gill or Pamela Wamala selling a painting, or Bob Martin selling a music CD, the cultural producers are the foundation of the creative economy and broad regional economy.

LZ says that Maxine Farkas of Western Avenue Studios counted 1,900 visitors or customers at WAS last weekend. The artists, according to Maxine, have had the best sales month ever, reaching almost $40,000 in sales.

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At the Brush Gallery & Studios in Market Mills, Eileen Byrne told LZ, “We did unbelievably well. We had great sales of original paintings….” In one weekend, The Brush had $6,800 in sales.

In its new gallery at 22 Shattuck Street (former Revolving Museum), the Arts League of Lowell also did very well over the weekend, says LZ.

Add to this the increased cinema activity generated by “The Fighter” and recent ticketed performance and sports events at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, and Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and you get a picture of a vital arts and entertainment sector in Lowell and Greater Lowell.

5 Responses to Hot Art Market in Lowell; Creative Economy Shows Strength

  1. Maxine says:

    Well actually I said that we had 1900 visitors over the first two weekends of this month during Holiday Open Studios. The sales figure comes from reports for those four days. Visitors came from the Cape, from Providence, from Portsmouth and Manchester, from Boston, Newburyport, from Lowell and Chelmsford, Westford, Andover, Groton, Nashua. Visitors said that they had seen us on Chronicle, seen our ads in Yankee Magazine and Merrimack Valley Magazine, heard our ads on The River, heard Liz Stewart on WCAP and read about us in the Sun.

    We are also seeing increased visitation in The Loading Dock Gallery outside of Holiday Open Studios and it will be interesting to see how well the Gallery has done over the holiday season, the Winter Lights show is up until January 2nd.

    It has been a good season!

  2. Anne says:

    I’m curious if Maxine can expand upon how the number of visitors is calculated. Does it include or exclude return visitors and what is considered a “visit”?

  3. Maxine says:

    Our elevator operators take turns working the parking lot with a clicker. They count everyone who enters the building between noon and five pm. They do not count artists. We do not count individuals who come before noon but we usually get between 25 and 50 people who come before the kids are positioned out in the parking lot. With three possible entrances and six floors, this is about all we can do with the resources we have.

  4. PaulM says:

    Thanks, Maxine. The numbers are really impressive. This is the kind of data that is needed to demonstrate the impact of the creative economy in Lowell and the region. When thinking and talking about the condition of the local economy, the economic development professionals need to know how the creative sector (private businesses and nonprofit org’s) is doing. It’s important for the community at large to know also because that’s the source of much of the positive word-of-mouth marketing that is essential.

  5. Maxine says:

    Exactly Paul, that is what I tell Western Ave. artists . . . repeatedly!

    Data collection on attendance is not easy, when you have what are essentially close to 150 small businesses that might or might not be open for a particular event. In a perfect world we would have a counter out in the parking lot every first Saturday, but that isn’t really economically feasible. So for normal first Saturday Open Studios we have to use the numbers collected by Loading Dock Gallery sitters and do projections.

    Gathering sales data is difficult because much of the population doesn’t think quantitatively . . . so when asked for sales info, they might well respond with ‘I sold a painting, I sold a sculpture, I sold a bracelet, I got a commission. Which for those of us who do the work, has meaning . . . but doesn’t give much in the way of numbers to crunch.

    And there is a segment of the population that feels that any focus on sales is a betrayal of what art is about. That artists should be divorced from commerce. It can be difficult.

    One additional bit on how we get people to Lowell . . . I was reminded that we have a contingent of artists who do shows outside of Lowell. They go to Boston, Providence, Concord NH, New York, Baltimore, Chicago . . . and they all carry with them stacks of the Western Avenue Studios brochures and postcards for our major events and we see folks coming to Lowell in response to those encounters.