by Kristen Dubis
Driving down Chelmsford Street in Lowell, it is tough to ignore the breathtaking mural on the siding of the 119 Gallery. Reminiscent of a similar, though more well known, corner spot in San Francisco by the name of City Lights Books, the gallery is an equally innovative community center for local artists and a meeting place for people of all ages to go to experience new things.
Originally founded in 1992 as the 911 Gallery in Indiana by Walter Wright and his wife Mary Anne Kearns, the gallery was created as an “artistic imperative” with a goal to promote contemporary and new media art.
“Someone had to exhibit and support new media and digital art including digital printmaking, computer imaging and sounds art, so we did!” said Wright.
Now located less than a mile from culturally active downtown Lowell, with a new name to match its current address, the gallery is thriving. Home to as many as 150 live performances a year, and around eight large exhibitions, the gallery also holds classes and workshops inside on their non-exhibition/performance days. With CD release parties, spoken word events, cooking and yoga classes, and live performances featuring a plethora of medias, 119 Gallery is kind of a factotum of the gallery world.
Unfortunately, some gallery goers and owner Walter Wright have noticed that the University is less involved than desired. When he’s not performing electronic/multi-media music or running the gallery, Wright is teaching at UMass Lowell focusing in New Media Arts, and he attributes some of this lacking support to his department.
“I wish more students would come to the gallery on a more regular basis. However, I don’t think that will happen until the art department reaches out to include community arts and interdisciplinary arts in the program,” said Wright.
Duy Hoang, a senior art student at UMass Lowell, has been going to the gallery for three or four years now and agrees with Wright’s sentiment about the importance of its popularity.
“I think more people at UMass Lowell should go there or at least know about it. It’s a special chance to explore our local creative minds, and witness each artist’s continuing growth that can become something so extraordinary later on,” said Hoang.
In a way, the gallery serves as the catalyst for emerging artists as well as acting as the vessel for their voice and creativity to pour through, but it is important to get the word out there about its existence. Samantha Weeden, a recent UMass Lowell graduate and former 119 intern, speaks very highly of the gallery and insists it deserves some attention.
“Recently I donated four small painting and the two large painting for the benefits auction. The 119 Gallery supports and works with UMass Lowell and the community so it’s just nice to give back. [I donated because] the gallery got all the proceeds. I believe that the students and faculties should go there and show support,” said Weeden.
Most small businesses rely on a strong community to drive its success and keep it afloat, and the 119 Gallery is no exception to this. With its active online involvement and connections, the gallery has defined itself among new artists from all over and has used its media resources to gain popularity and exposure.
“The Facebook insight says 80% of our fans are between the ages of 18 – 44, – these are young artists that are looking for opportunities the see new art, meet other artist, create new art, and perform. A significant number of the 70+ ‘young emerging artists’ in the recent anthology published by bootstrap press have direct or indirect links with [us]! Some, in fact… would not be creating art if it were not for 119 Gallery,” says Wright.
Regardless of the varying tastes in art or music that most of 119 Gallery visitors’ posses, they all seem to agree on one thing.
“They [owners Walter and Mary] are two of the greatest people I have met. They do everything they can for anyone in need and support artists fully. They are so laid back, and so fun!” said Weeden.
Hoang agrees, adding that “[they] have to be some of the most beautiful, genuine people I have ever encountered. They live and work with smiles that are so contagious.”
So if you attend the University, live in Lowell, or at the very least have visited the area, and have ever wondered to yourself, “Where can I find good art in Lowell?” now you can journey on with confidence and take advantage of a conve