Remembering Nelson Mandela in Lowell

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Nelson Mandela was born 100 years ago today on July 18th, 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa. His death in 2013 was marked with sadness the world over and Lowell was no exception.  Lowell Community Charter Public School held a celebration of his life that was featured in the original Room 50 blog.

Then Mayor Patrick Murphy remarked, ““We have all lost a strong voice for peace and justice in the world.  In his life, Nelson Mandela struggled for no less than the freedom of his people, at great cost to himself and his family. Jailed away for three decades, he later prevailed in the end to Apartheid, and began as president to heal a nation divided by its history of tyranny and oppression.”

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2014 Greeley Peace Scholar Albie Sachs

mandelaoverlook.jpgMandela’s passing renewed a call from local activists in the African community for a monument in his honor.  In April 2014, the City of Lowell and University of Massachusetts Lowell dedicated the Mandela Overlook alongside the Tsongas Center in a ceremony headlined by special guest (and Mandela friend) Judge Albie Sachs.

Judge Sachs was in Lowell as the 2014 Greeley Peace Scholar. The Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies award honors a distinguished advocate for peace, noted humanitarian, or faith leader who is asked to serve in limited residency at the University of Massachusetts Lowell during one semester each year.  Sachs devoted much of his lectures to remembering the life of Mandela who had passed away only a few months prior.

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The following year, a marker was installed at the Overlook site.  The marker notes that the Mandela Overlook “resonates in a special way with the city’s growing African immigrant community.”   The Africa America Alliance is working with the university on eventually installing a larger monument to Mandela based on a design created by UML students.

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The Nelson Mandela Overlook is graced with a quote from one of Mandela’s most well-known and influential speeches:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

Congolese Independence Day

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The first six months of the term of Mayor William Samaras has seen three new flags join the ranks of Lowell’s flag raising traditions.  First was the Haitian flag raising in May, then the Pride flag to start off the month of June, and now we can add the Democratic Republic of The Congo to the list as they celebrated their first flag raising on June 30th.

 

A New Beat for Kerouac Park

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30 years ago, the City of Lowell honored its then still controversial native son with the establishment of Kerouac Park on the site of an old warehouse between the Eastern Canal and Bridge Street.  Although the park has seen some memorable moments, particularly during festive occasions related to its world-renown namesake, most would agree that the park is an underutilized space in the thick of Lowell’s historic downtown.

Therefore city leaders, particularly in the Office of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, were thrilled when they heard about MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places campaign and proposed Kerouac Park as one of the projects for the opportunity.

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Paul Marion leads a Lowell Walks Tour into Kerouac Park, 2017

Commonwealth Places provides a creative funding mechanism to advance community placemaking projects throughout Massachusetts. The statewide program helps fund place-based, community-driven projects – art installations, parks, bike trails, markets, and more – that revitalize downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. Successful projects must activate a new or underused public or community space, and the program will give preference to permanent physical projects. The program aims to engage and mobilize community members to make individual contributions through a crowdfunding platform with the incentive of a dollar-for-dollar funding match (up to $50,000) from MassDevelopment if the crowdfunding goal is reached within 60 days.

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Kerouac Park with renderings of proposed improvements

Kerouac Park was chosen as Lowell’s bid for the crowdfunding project with MassDevelopment pledging a matching donation of $25,000 once the private donations equal that number.  The campaign has been active throughout the month of June and with the June 30th deadline approaching, Kerouac Park is under $4000 away from reaching the magic $25000 figure.

As the project’s crowdfunding page describes:

 

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Light Up Lowell at Kerouac Park 5/5/18

“Spots nearby are bustling many days of the year, especially during our major festivals and events. However, Kerouac Park is often empty. This is a tremendous missed opportunity. In a city with so little park space, we believe investing in Kerouac Park would make it a destination for residents and visitors to relax, play, mingle, laugh, gather, and celebrate Lowell.

 

With your help, Kerouac Park will be the spark to rediscovering a chunk of worn out greenspace Downtown, while also fostering bigger activities and events. To do so, we’ll need to jazz up the shipping container from the Mill Yard with a vibrant mural, build and buy new all-weather furniture, install concrete table tennis tables, and comfortable seats—Giant Adirondack anyone? “

The improvements to Kerouac Park would be diverse and multifaceted.  Some are focused on adding vibrancy to the area as an event space, such as the Friday Nights! food truck series sponsored by Made in Lowell.

But plans for the park also include improvements to its day to day use as well by installing tables, chairs, games, hammocks, swings, stage, Wi-Fi, and even something as simple as electrical power.

KP2Another unique element to the plans for Kerouac Park will be a revolving space for pop-up businesses.  Building upon the start up business culture fostered by groups such as Entrepreneurship for All, new businesses would be allowed to reserve the space on a temporary basis for a couple weeks at a time to try out new ideas and get exposure.

The project has received the endorsement of many partners including: CMAA Lowell, COOL, DIY Lowell, EforAll Lowell-Lawrence, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, Lowell Heritage Partnership, Lowell Historic Board, Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility, Made in Lowell, The Lowell Plan, City of Lowell Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Lowell Department of Planning and Development, City of Lowell Parks Department, and the City of Lowell Recreation Office.

In return for tax-deductible donations, patrons receive tokens ranging from exclusive commemorative stickers to permanent plaque dedication marking their contributions.

Please visit the campaign page on Patronicity and consider making a donation to help Kerouac Park reach its goal and unlock matching funds for a new vibrant space.

UPDATE: As of July 1st, The Kerouac Park Patronicity campaign raised $29,692 in private crowdfunding donations, enough to qualify for the $25,000 matching contribution from MassDevelopment.  The Kerouac Park facebook page will continue to provide updates on the park’s transformation and redevelopment. 

Everyone has an Acre connection

There’s an old saying that there’s only six degrees of separation between any two people on Earth.  Its perhaps most famously applied to Kevin Bacon, a common parlor game challenges people to connect actors via common films to the Footloose star within 6 degrees or less.

When the Coalition for a Better Acre was looking to host a fundraiser two years ago, they played on the 6 degrees concept in tracing people’s connections to the Acre neighborhood, dubbing the gala “6 Degrees of the Acre.”  Of course the thing is… for most people in Lowell it takes much fewer than 6 degrees.  Everyone has an Acre connection!

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Six Degrees of the Acre: 2016 & 2017

 

Videographer Tory Wesnofske captured some of these connections in a video that played during the first 6 Degrees event on June 23rd, 2016.

The Life’s A Maven blog also did a brief write up of the first event.

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Elkin Montoya, former CBA Board President

Coalition for a Better Acre is a membership-based community development corporation dedicated to resident empowerment and sustainable community revitalization for current and future residents of Lowell and the Merrimack Valley.  Three decades after CBA’s first acquisition of a derelict tenement, CBA is a professionally staffed CDC with a portfolio of 476 residential rental units and an additional 50 homes sold to first-time homebuyers, giving low-income and working-class families the opportunity to live in safe and attractive affordable homes.

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Sara Bogosian, William Samaras, and former City Councilor Franky Descoteaux at the first 6 Degrees fundraiser in 2016

During the first few months of his term, Mayor Samaras’s office has worked closely with CBA on a number of projects including the Pay for Success program, Donuts with Delegates, and AcreFest.

DSC_0701The first two 6 Degrees events were held at the former Saint Jean Baptiste Church on Merrimack St.  This year, the event moves to another historic Acre landmark–The Ayer Mansion.  A full history of the building can be found on the Acre News blog.  Ayer Mansion was also among locations featured during Doors Open Lowell earlier this year.

This year’s event comes with a different spin.  Guests will be transported back to 1888 as “Mr. and Mrs. Ayer” roll out the red carpet to welcome them to an elegant black-tie soiree at the most ornate mansion in the City of Lowell. Proceeds support CBA’s programming aimed at helping low-income residents become financially self-sufficient and break the cycle of poverty.

The fancy fun will go down on Thursday, June 28th at 6:00 p.m. at  357 Pawtucket St in Lowell.  Visit www.cbacre.org for more information and mktix.com/cba to get your tickets.

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Bonjour Amis! C’est La Semaine Franco-Americaine! (2018)

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Since 1971, members of Le Comité Franco-Américain de Lowell have officially gathered to celebrate June 24th, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, in the city.  What started as a celebratory day soon grew to an annual celebration known as Franco American Week.

2018 events included a ham and bean supper, a documentary film screening, painting lessons, and French Bingo.  Every year since 1975, the committee has also honored a “Franco-American of the Year” with the first honoree being then-Mayor Armand LeMay.

Another annual highlight is of course the raising of the flag of Quebec at Lowell City Hall every year on the 24th of June.

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Room 50 has wonderful photos from the 2013 Flag Raising including this shot of the oldest living Lowell mayor, Armand Lemay and the youngest one, Patrick Murphy (with Henri Marchand)

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2017 Franco American Flag Raising with then-Mayor Edward Kennedy

After rain moved the 2017 edition indoors,  an overcast but dry Sunday morning allowed the ceremony to return to the front of the City Hall steps. Here are a few photo highlights of the 2018 Franco American Flag Raising:

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The always dapper Armand LeMay adjusts his jacket.

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Flag procession by the Honor Guard

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Armand and Curtis LeMay

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Curtis welcomes the crowd from behind the wreath.

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Mayor LeMay sings O Canada in French as the Quebec Flag is raised.

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Next on the agenda was the laying of the wreath in front of the Franco American Monument.

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The Franco-American Monument was dedicated on June 24th 1974. It is located in front of the City Hall. It was erected “in memory of all Franco-Americans of the past who helped to build Lowell, to those of the present who are continuing a well and cherished heritage and to all Franco-Americans of the future who will help to keep Lowell the great city that it is”.

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Several notable political figures were in attendance including Congressional candidates Rufus Gifford and Lori Trahan, and former City Councilor Rithy Uong.

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Mayor Samaras delivered welcoming remarks and issued a proclamation for 2018 Franco American Week in Lowell.

“Lowellians of French and Quebecois descent have helped shape the City of Lowell in numerous ways.  The realms of business, government, education, the arts—each has seen distinguished Franco Americans from Lowell and the Lowell area,” noted the Mayor.

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Each of the other former mayors also spoke, giving greetings to the Franco Lowellian crowd.  EdFlagsFrancoCommittee

Franco-American Day Committee President Kevin Roy wrapped up the morning’s festivities by thanking all the volunteers who make Franco American Week possible.

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Following the ceremony was the traditional doughnut and coffee reception.  A great time was had by all.

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For more information about Le Comité Franco-Américain de Lowell , visit Francolowellma.wordpress.com or check out Lowell Franco American Week on facebook.

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A mayoral embrace.

 

 

 

A Leader on the Mound, A Leader in Life

There was one out in the seventh inning in the game between Lowell High School and Peabody on May 22nd, 1968 when a deep fly ball was hit towards center fielder Tim Green.  Green remembers hearing a distinctive voice from the bleachers–Rodger Martin, sitting with Tim’s own father–lay out the stakes in a memorably blunt fashion.

“If you drop that, I’ll kill you!”

Tim Green did not drop the ball.  Nor did Tommy Whalen, the star shortshop and future Pittsburgh Pirates draft pick who made the next and final play that sealed a historic victory.

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The first perfect game in Lowell High School baseball history.

The pitcher that day was Rodger’s son, a young left-handeder named Brian J. Martin, and the leadership shown on the baseball diamond was precursor of distinguished leadership shown in a wide variety of public service roles throughout his career.  On Saturday, June 23rd at the Stanley Stoklosa Alumni Baseball Field, Brian’s family, friends, colleagues, and 1968 teammates joined together to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic moment with the installation of a commemorative plaque and another LHS baseball first–a retired number.

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Inducted into the LHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996,  Brian Martin compiled a 16–5 career record with an E.R.A. of 1.44, while striking out 208 batters in 151 innings. Brian’s career batting statistics as an out­fielder included a batting average of .338 with 5 home runs. Lowell High School advanced to the Massachusetts State Tournament in both his junior and senior seasons.

He would continue his standout baseball career at UMass Amherst, where he batted .322 for his career and set the Minutemen’s single season record by hitting .422 as a sophomore, en route to receiving many collegiate accolades including All-New England (1970), All-Yankee Conference (1970–1971), and team Co-­Captain (1971–1972).

When injuries cut short his promising athletic career, Brian turned his attention to public service.  Upon graduation from UMass, he worked as a teacher, coach, and administrator at Greater Lowell Technical High School before trying his hand at politics.  In 1981, Brian won his first election to the Lowell City Council.  Two years later, he was chosen as mayor.  At 31, he was the youngest Plan E mayor in Lowell history at the time (Only Patrick Murphy, chosen in 2012 at age 29, was younger.)

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Brian Martin was the city’s 76th mayor and 13th city manager and the first to ever have held both jobs.

After a successful council career, Brian switched gears to the administrative side of Lowell government, serving first as assistant city manager, before becoming the 13th city manager in Lowell history in 1995.  His tenure as city manager saw the city’s construction of the Paul E. Tsongas Arena and Edward LeLacheur Ballpark.

After stints as president and general manager of the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters, athletic director at Lowell High School, and as the district director in the office of Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Brian took on what Mayor William Samaras calls “the best job in the city of Lowell–headmaster of Lowell High School.”  Brian served as LHS headmaster/head of school from 2013 until retiring at the end of the 2017 school year.

With rain starting to fall, the ceremony was moved into the batting cages, the podium placed right alongside home plate with Brian’s glove and a frame holding the original two lineup scorecards of the Lowell Peabody game prominently displayed.

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Mayor Samaras spoke first.  After listing and thanking Brian for his many professional accomplishments, fellow former LHS headmaster Mayor Samaras noted the unique connection that he and Brian now share.

“Now I don’t know if you really realize this, but Brian and I are members of a very exclusive club.  We are the only people in Lowell to have served as both mayor and as headmaster. He was the first and I joined him earlier this year,” the Mayor explained before adding in reference to his recent first pitch experience, “But as anyone who saw me at opening day of the Spinners can attest, I think its safe to say, I will never pitch a perfect game,” drawing laughs from the assembled crowd.

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Congresswoman Tsongas followed the mayor’s remarks with her own tribute to not only her former chief aide but also a very close friend.

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“Brian is a great Lowellian…He showed it first in the no-hitter where he brought everything he had to the effort and showcased Lowell in the course of it, and virtually everything he’s ever done since then he’s demonstrated that same standard of excellence.”

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The current Lowell High School Baseball Team listened in on the program

DSC_0931City Councilor Dave Conway was a senior on the LHS baseball team in 1966 when Brian made his debut as a sophomore.  Both were lefthanded pitchers.  The younger southpaw must have made a good first impression on his teammate the upperclassman as Brian threw a no-hitter in his very first pitching performance, one of several others in addition to the perfect game.  Councilor Conway recalled that game and several other memories from their time as teammates while also describing his dual passions.

“Brian has always had a love and respect for the greatest game in the world…baseball.  But equally important, Brian has had a tremendous respect and love for Lowell High School and the City of Lowell.”

Speaking next was Green, who served as a representative of the 1968 team.  He recalled highlights of the 2-0 game 50 years ago in great detail.

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Billy Ryan in the third inning drove in the winning run, just one run.  That was the story of the game until the fifth inning, Billy Hoey–there was a hotshot down the third base, he knocked it down, got up and threw it over to Billy Ryan who made a wonderful, wonderful stretch–and we got the out. In the fifth inning, Kenny Cavanaugh was on third base, with two outs, he got the steal sign.  The batter had two strikes on him. The batter swung, hit the ball, and Kenny scored, it was an infield hit.”

Finally, it was time for the guest of honor to give a few remarks.

Brian began by recalling the game in question,”To pitch a perfect game, you have to be lucky.  The balls have to bounce your way and things just have to fall in place.  That day it did.”

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Members of the 1968 Lowell High School Baseball Team

DSC_0019He then went on to mention his luck in having great teammates, coaches, parents, and family members.  While the highlight of his own baseball career may have been the perfect game, Brian was even more proud to recall the accomplishments of his children.

When a steady drizzle started to transition to a downpour, Brian received help from a good friend and former colleague at the congressional office, Vanna Howard, who held an umbrella above him so he could finish his speech.

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Brian closed with “a baseball story about life.”

dsc_0035.jpg“Sometimes life turns out for the best. Now maybe bad luck ends up being good luck after all. My two old roommates in the Cape Cod baseball league, they continued in professional baseball…they made professional baseball their life, which is what I thought I would do.”

“But when I got hurt, and couldn’t throw any more, I finally focused on school and I settled back in my hometown.  I wouldn’t trade places with either one of my old friends.  With what the community of Lowell has given me, I guess I would consider myself the luckiest guy in the City of Lowell.”

The City of Lowell is certainly lucky to have had Brian Martin, not only for the leadership shown during the perfect game he pitched, but the 50 years of leadership and service that have followed.

 

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A Midsummer’s Dream Come True

Established in 2015, DIY Lowell is a citizen-led initiative that connects and empowers Lowellians to pursue all different types of small-scale projects and events. Some notable DIY projects include the Downtown Lowell History Trail, Park (Ing) Day, and the Points of Light Lantern Festival.

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Humanity Owner Ani Vong can fly!

Last Saturday, DIY partnered with several downtown entities including Humanity Boutique, Studio 506 Theater, Pollard Memorial Library, Downtown Lowell Neighborhood Association, Made in Lowell, and the Office of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to present unique one time only downtown festival with a particular special cause.

The “A Midsummer Dream” festival celebrated magic, theatre, art, music, and costume for kids and adults! Merrimack Street was transformed into a Pixie Marketplace, with vendors, crafting, costume/cosplay contest, fairy house promenade.  The evening concluded with a a special “traveling” production of Shakespeare’s classic “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by Studio 506 that led the audience through downtown, traveling from scene to scene, ending in a starlight dance party.

LeeThe festival was dedicated in the memory of Lee Pho, the owner of Little Delights Boutique who died in 2017 after a courageous battle with lymphoma. She was a devoted mother, a small business leader, and a force for magic and joy downtown. Lee’s friends and colleagues created the festival in her memory “to honor her dedication to magic, downtown, and family.”

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The magic afternoon and evening delighted guests of all ages.

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Ani Vong spoke about her friend Lee, the inspiration for the festival.

Guests to the festival could check out the fairy houses that were scattered among various locales in Downtown.  Each house was designed by a different volunteer with a theme of their own choosing.

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Lowell Festival Foundation Board Member, Dave Grondine and his daughter Emily Grondine prepare for the Costume Contest.

Among those to enjoy the costume contest were former Mayor Edward Kennedy, School Committee member Dominik Lay, and city councilor Karen Cirillo--who also served as a judge!

Other VIP judges included Yun-Ju Choi, Andy Jacobson, and Richard HoweJack Moynihan was tasked as the VIP judge recruiter.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy written by William Shakespeare in 1596. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons. These include the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.

The Studio 506 presentation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream made great use of the magical settings in Downtown Lowell.  The play began in the Courtyard of St. Anne’s Church.

The players (and audience) then moved to Lucy Larcom Park on the campus of Lowell High School.

 

 

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Acting under the LHS tunnel in the heart of Downtown Lowell

The traveling show crossed through downtown on the way to its next destination.

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Market Street Park was the setting for several of the most dramatic scenes in the performance.

The penultimate setting for the show was at the Mary J. Bacigalupo Victorian Garden along Shattuck Street next to the Trolley Museum.

Finally the performance returned to St. Anne’s for its humorous conclusion…

Before being followed by a moonlit dance party!

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There are currently no plans for a second Midsummer Dream Festival as the organizers intended for it to be a one time only special event.  But the hope is it serves as an inspiration for other similar creative undertakings in the future.

New Middlesex Academic Center Truly is A Work of Art

On June 21st, Mayor William Samaras and other fortunate local dignitaries were given the opportunity for a sneak peek of Middlesex Community College’s latest coming attraction–The Donahue Family Academic Arts Center at the former Boston and Maine Railroad Depot on Central Street.

Depot Building in 1876 and 1984 Photos: Lowell Historic Board

SignThe historic building, commonly known locally as the Rialto buidling, has undergone several different identities since its construction in 1876, including stints as a movie theater, bowling alley, and a congressional campaign office.  In the 1980’s the building faced demolition until the Lowell Historic Board stepped in to save the structure.  It was donated to the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission in 1989.  In 2008, Middlesex Community College purchased the property with plans to redevelop it into an academic performing arts center.  RichardHowe.com has a fuller rundown on the history of the building in this 2016 article about the groundbreaking ceremony at the site in 2015.

A long awaited project: former City Manager Bernie Lynch, former MCC President Carole Cowan, and former LNHP Superintendent Michael Creasey at the 2008 ceremony marking MCC’s takeover of the Depot building. (Photos: MCC)

The MCC Academic Arts Center will support classrooms and performance space for music and dance, exhibit space, and multi-purpose space. All of these educational activities will serve not only students enrolled in courses at the college, but also many other segments of the Lowell community, including the public schools system, the National Park Service, and other public and private agencies and organizations with which the college regularly collaborates.

The Academic Arts Center will officially open its doors in September with the Middlesex Community College theater presentation of Romeo & Juliet.  Guests to the Open House on Thursday got a glimpse of several of the building’s features:

 

A 190-seat Proscenium Theater

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103-seat second floor Recital Hall

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900-square-foot Dance Studio

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Reflections of Joe Hungler

 

Backstage and Dressing Rooms

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Flexible Classroom Spaces

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And even up into the Tower Room, which MCC Provost Phil Sisson joked was going to be President James Mabry’s second office.  The original towers of the building were actually demolished during the mid 20th century before being restored by the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission.

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While guests were truly impressed by the public-facing performance spaces, the hosts also emphasized that each section of the Academic Arts Center was designed with academics in mind–teaching and learning always at the forefront.

The official ribbon cutting and debut performance at the center are scheduled for September.  Until then, you can learn more about the space and Middlesex Community College’s performing arts programs by visiting www.middlesex.mass.edu/academicartscenter/

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Mayor William Samaras, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, and MCC President Dr. James Mabry