The Arts League of Lowell on the first floor of the renovated Gates Block Building, 307 Market St.
By Ed Karvoski Jr.,Culture Editor
Lowell – After the founding members of the Arts League of Lowell (ALL) had an organizational meeting in the fall of 2003, and then incorporated and filed for nonprofit status in 2004, the 501(c) (3) corporation relocated to several venues within its first few years. Since the spring of 2013, however, ALL has successfully settled into a long-term home in the renovated 1881 Gates Block Building at 307 Market St. in the downtown Canalway Cultural District.
According to its website, “In a city whose motto is ‘Art is the handmaid of human good,’ ALL has become the catalyst for the creation of a community of all artists. Through ALL, longtime residents and Lowell’s new cultural immigrants can come together to share ideas and resources, and to promote each other’s work.’”
Continuing to serve as the ALL board president since its inception is Steve Syverson, a two- and three-dimensional sculptor, and owner of the art supplies and custom framing store Van Gogh’s Gear. He’s among the founding members who experienced ALL’s nomadic years.
“We bounced around,” he acknowledged. “We were at the mercy of our landlords. The deal was always that we could use the space for free as long as they didn’t have a tenant willing to pay rent.”
Now located in the four-story building at 307 Market St., ALL occupies the first floor with a 2,200-square-foot gallery and a classroom alongside Syverson’s 1,100-square-foot store. The building that had formerly housed Van Gough’s Gear on Middle Street was sold and became unavailable.
“We found the space where ALL is today and agreed that we’d move the gallery there if I could also move my store there,” Syverson explained. “That way we could share the rent on the first floor. It’s the only way that ALL could afford to have the gallery.”
The building was renovated by Lowell developer Nicholas Sarris. There are now 34 artists’ studios in the building’s three floors above ALL.
“Probably about a third of the people upstairs are members of ALL,” Syverson noted. “It’s all one big happy family.”
ALL currently has nearly 250 members, most of whom are visual artists of varied media including painters and photographers. Among other disciplines represented are ceramics, clay, digital arts, fiber arts, glass, jewelry, literature, media arts, mixed media, music, sculpture and wood. ALL welcomes new members who are active artists or interested in supporting the arts.
Annual membership is $45, and $35 for registered students and seniors age 65 and over. Members are able to sublet wall space in the cooperative gallery to display their work for $10 per linear foot, ranging from two- to five-feet wide for $20 to $50 a month. It’s not necessary to live in Lowell to be a member.
“Over the course of our organization’s lifetime we’ve had in excess of 800 members,” Syverson said. “We’ve had members living in France and Ghana.”
Syverson now also lives in downtown Lowell where other art galleries and studios are located within walking distance. He appreciates the interaction between the community’s long-established and younger artists.
“Downtown Lowell is an interesting and pleasurable place,” he said. “The city government made a conscious effort to create an art-friendly community. There’s a synergy among all the artists. Everybody wants to see everybody else succeed, so they’re always supportive with a lot of comradery.”