Lowell, MA

Contact Name
Maxine Farkas
Project Dates
2005 - Present
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2011
Tags
Real Estate, Business Planning
While the city of Lowell has been courting artists since the late 90's there had been little effort made to provide space for artists to work. BPV Lowell, LLC had purchased the old Joan Fabrics complex and was looking for a tenant for the unused 5th floor of one of the mill buildings. The 5th floor was built out as studio space as a way to explore the demand for work space in the city.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The original goal was to provide low cost work space for artists. This continues to be a goal.
Have they changed over time?
It has been expanded to include the construction of 50 accessibly priced live/work rental units in one of the buildings in the complex.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
BPV Lowell, LLC is working closely with the artists to make this happen.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
The studios were built out incrementally during the period 2005 to 2010. The 5th floor of the C/D mill was opened in August of 2005, the 4th floor in January of 2006, the 3rd floor in August of 2006. The 3rd floor of the A Mill was opened in August of 2007, the 2nd floor of the A Mill in November of 2007. The 2nd floor of the C/D Mill was opened in February of 2009 and additional studio spaces were constructed on the 4th floor of the C/D Mill in December of 2010.
Have they been refined over time?
A first attempt at building live/work condo's was made in 2007, we have revised our plan to meet the demand for live/work rental units and are currently awaiting word on financing. 2011 we will be installing the largest private solar array on the roofs of the A, C/D and G Mills to put the roofs of the building into energy production.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
One of the biggest obstacles is a lack of belief in the demand for artist work space and live/work space. We have also had opposition from some local business owners who do not wish to see anything but light industrial uses at our location.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
We have done a pretty good job of overcoming a lot of the obstacles by the strength of the community that we have built. Our artists turn out for public meetings and show their support for our projects.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Top three suggestions . . . build a community that likes itself and is willing to work, be nimble and never let go of your sense of the ridiculous.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Before Western Avenue Studios opened there were 15 artist work spaces available in the city of Lowell. (13 of which were juried spaces). There were no commercial art galleries in the city and the only venue for art sales were the once a year citywide Lowell Open Studios. When we opened in August of 2005 there were 32 studios and 45 artists. As I write this we have 148 studios and offer work space to over 200 artists. We have developed First Saturday Open Studios, where we welcome the public to our studios once a month. We have developed Holiday Open Studios the first two weekends in December. We have opened the only artist run commercial gallery in Lowell. We participate in Lowell Open Studios. We have run free summer art programs for local children. We have developed partnerships with the Lowell Humane Society, the Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood, the Miracle Providers NorthEast, the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We have become a destination and showcase for our artists. We have no vacancies, and get 5 to 7 inquiries a week for studio space. We have built an amazingly strong community of artists who support each other and the city.
Were there unexpected impacts?
The scale of what we do and what was possible
CCX Workshop Handout