Lowell Open Studios continues today, 11 am to 5 pm, in locations around the city. This has become one of the stellar events of the year. That hundreds of artists chose Lowell as a place to live and/or work, is no simple twist of fate. There is a complex story line that explains how and why this happened, and many people deserve thanks for their efforts in the past 40 years, not least of which are the individual artists who took a chance on Lowell. This week we learned of the passing of John B. Duff, first president of the Universty of Lowell and first chairman of the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, the federal agency that developed the Brush Gallery at Market Mills in 1982. Dr. Duff helped make Lowell a cultural powerhouse through his support for the ULowell Foundation, with help from Nancy Donahue and others, and by incubating Merrimack Repertory Theatre at Mahoney Hall on the campus. While he was president, ULowell also sponsored a series of “ethnic symposia” with events highlighting Lowell’s multi-ethnic heritage. Following is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book, Mill Power: The Origin and Impact of Lowell National Historical Park. The event mentioned took place in 2012 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. People from cities like Lowell (so-called Gateway Cities) gathered to talk about strategies for moving their communities forward, particularly with a sense of promoting their distinctive social, physical, and cultural assets.—PM
Former mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, John Robert Smith is as eloquent a spokesman for the virtues of cities and the arts as one might meet. He told the Creative Place-making summit attendees the story of Meridian remaking itself into the intellectual and cultural hub of its region. He contends that cities must offer excellent artistic experiences to both children, as a way to nurture their aspirations, and business CEO’s, who crave inspiring moments in their own lives. He believes that people want to live in places whose residents care about questions like “Where do we come from?” and “Who are we now?”—places that have a sense of their own identity and a coherent presentation of themselves in everyday life, not places where residents try to imitate a pre-fab formula from away or react defensively to the way they think others view them. He showed a slide of a marketing poster from Mississippi with a headline acknowledging the prevailing view of it as a lagging state. “Yes, we can read. A few of us can even write” was the headline under which were the faces of about 20 authors: William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham, Natasha Trethewey, and others. The words “Mississippi” and “poor” don’t have to mean poor self-image or poor prospects, he said. And, it does not hurt to show that you have a sense of humor.
Returning to his point about aspirations, Roberts said, “You have to remain focused on a point in the future you will not occupy. I see that point in the eyes of my grandson.” In his closing, Roberts lifted up the audience when he cited the Persian poet Sa’di on the human need for “loaves and hyacinths” to feed body and soul and quoted the Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay’s poem “On the Building of Springfield”:
We should build parks that students from afar
Would choose to starve in, rather than go home,
Fair little squares, with Phidian ornament,
Food for the spirit, milk and honeycomb.
. . .
We must have many Lincoln-hearted men.
A city is not builded in a day.
And they must do their work, and come and go
While countless generations pass away.
—Paul Marion (c) 2013 by Lowell National Historical Park