You Know They Are Here . . . Now Get to Know Them.

Lowell has become a city of artists.

From Western Avenue Studios to the Appleton Mills; the Brush Art Gallery to the Whistler House, the population of creatives painting, sculpting, photographing, writing, and doing everything in between has exploded over the last few years.

But, what do you know about these fascinating creatures? What inspires them? Who has influenced their work? Where did they come from? What is the real story of the life of an artist? Are they really all starving?

A new documentary series from Subes Acharya, his wife Soumita Acharya and Peter Tsaklis from Lowell Telecommunications Corp, sheds some light on all of those questions and more.

The first episode of  “Artists of Lowell: Their Stories” focuses on Debra Bretton Robinson (debrabrettonrobinson@wordpress.com) and Rachel Kowalik (rachelkowalik.com), who both have studio space at Western Avenue Studios.

The medium of choice for Bretton Robinson, who studied at the New England School of Art and Design and the Massachusetts College of Art, is acrylics on canvas.

Influenced by the work of Matisse, Edward Hopper and a group of turn of the 20th century Canadian artists known as The Seven, she uses bright vibrant colors in her work. Her cityscapes are captivating, optimistic and whimsically quiet; there are no people, just the suggestion they may be around. A light here, a car there.

Back Bay by Debra Bretton Robinson

When she is not painting at WAS, the Chelmsford resident can be found teaching art at the Franco American School or at downtown Lowell wine shop Tutto Bene as part of their The Art of Wine series.

Kowalik, a graduate of the Maine College of Art, prefers to work in bright oil paints accented by metallic leaf. Her work, heavily focused on abstract aerial landscapes, is influenced by the myriad of location she has called home.

Bangor-Brewer, Maine by Rachel Kowalik

Growing up as the daughter of an exploration geologist for the world’s largest gold mining company, she found herself in a new home every couple of years. From Maine to Spain, Peru to Nevada.

Her influences are just as international. Kowalik caught the art bug after attending a show of Spanish artists in Peru as a teen; today, she is intrigued by contemporary Australian Aboriginal artists.

“Artists of Lowell: Their Stories” will be shown on LTC every Thursday at 8 p.m. and every Saturday at 11 a.m. for the next four weeks. Methuen cable access is also broadcasting the same show every Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. and Friday at 5:30 p.m.

It can also be viewed on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAXMg8E9Hsw

Subes Acharya said the purpose of the series is to help the artists market themselves both in and outside of the city and to serve as a learning tool for young people who are considering an art career.

The series is part of an effort spearheaded by the Acharyas and assisted by Tsaklis to “rebrand” Lowell and erase some of the inaccurate negative perceptions of today’s Lowell.

Last year, the Acharyas were house shopping. They were dissuaded by colleagues, friends and even real estate agents from looking in Lowell. They were told it was dirty and not safe.

Following a visit to Lowell to bring their young daughter to the circus, they began to look around. They liked what they saw and purchased a condo.

The perception of their new culturally diverse, historically and architecturally rich home as a rowdy, crime and drug infested city did not sit well with the new Lowellians. They are working to erase that perception, and rebrand the city as a place for families, art, culture and business, the best way they know how – through documentary film.

It is a non-profit labor of love, their way of giving back to their adopted hometown; the city in which they will raise their daughter.

In addition to the artist profiles, they are also working on a larger documentary project focused on highlighting the evolution and successes of Lowell over the last five years.

For more information contact Subes Acharya at 508-395-6379 or by email at thenetsearch@gmail.com.

Food is Love. Food is Life.

Today in the United States, 1 in every 6 people live in poverty.

Fifty million Americans are food insecure, meaning they are left worrying about from where their next meal will come or if they will have enough nutritious food and will be able to adequately prepare it to feed themselves and their families. Will their supply of food run out before thy have enough money to buy more? Will they have to skip a meal to ration what they have?

That insecurity could be born of economic limitations, a lack of accessibility to healthy fresh foods, or the simple lack of knowledge of how to access and prepare nutritious foods.

Friday morning, food security was the focus of the day-long Keys to Ending Homelessness Conference, the 7th in a series of conferences hosted by the City of Lowell as part of its Partnership for Change to End Homelessness.

City Manager Bernie Lynch said while the main focus in the fight against homelessness is “housing first,” food is a basic need that has to be addressed.

It is imperative, he said, to give people the tools they need to overcome the problems they are faced with in life.

Essentially, it comes back to the “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for life” principle.

A movement that has gained steam in Lowell recently is part of that solution – community gardens.

The city has partnered with Mill City Grows to create and cultivate community gardens on once vacant blighted city-owned lots, which had previously been magnets for crime.

This past summer,  40 gardeners grew a bounty of produce in the  community garden at Rotary Park in the city’s Back Central neighborhood. In addition to eggplant, tomatoes and bok choy, the garden has grown a neighborhood.

People who under other circumstances would never have the opportunity to speak to each other were sharing gardening secrets and recipes, learning about each other’s food and culture.

“It engages people and helps people understand how food is produced while building community,” said Lynch. “It is helping people help themselves.”

Mill City Grows is working with ACTION (Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood) to create a similar garden on a city owned parcel on Whiting Street and with the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group to build a community garden on a vacant city-owned lot on Smith Street.

“Gardening is the single greatest skill humans have come up with,” said Roger Swain, former host of the “Victory Garden” on PBS and co-host of “People, Places and Plants” on HGTV, who served as the keynote speaker at the conference.

Swain explained in 1944, 44 percent of all fresh fruits and vegetables in this country were grown and picked by 20 million home gardeners, growing crops in their World War II “victory gardens.”

“We need more victory gardens,” Swain said, not because of the war in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but because they are needed here at home. “The act of raising some of your own food is a spectacular endeavor with all kinds of benefits.”

There are 7,864 farmers’ markets in the U.S. (including the Lowell Farmers Market) and more than 4,000 Community Supported Agriculture locations (like Farmer Dave’s in Dracut) where people purchase a “share” of the crops grown by the farmer, picking up a box of fresh produce weekly at the farm.

Swain said urban farming is possible through the use of raised garden beds, which can be placed anywhere: on top of contaminated soil, on parking lots or on roofs.

He added gardening is one of the greatest signs of optimism and hope for the future.

You plant a seed or seedling with the expectation you will be around to harvest it when it matures. The annual cycle of planting and harvesting is therapy, he said.

Swain pointed to St. Louis, which has planted the City Seeds Urban Farm, right off of the highway, where the homeless, addicted, mentally ill and recently-paroled farm the land.

Its mission is to provide job training, therapeutic horticulture, and education, for troubled people, while increasing the production and distribution of locally produced food. It also serves as a resource for community education, sustainable urban agriculture and food security.

The other benefits of growing your own food are the opportunities that come with excess: sharing and the culinary creativity born of having to cook a bushel of zucchini.

Swain encouraged thinking outside the box, making a watermelon, feta, olive and basil salad or sautéing Brussel sprouts in a little bacon fat, slicing them and placing a piece of thick cut bacon inside — Brussel sprout sliders.

Others who addressed the conference included: James Arena-DeRosa, Northeast Regional Administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service; Daniel J. Curley, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance; and Park Wilde, an Associate Professor at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

After lunch, participants attended a series of workshops on food security, food stamps, food policy, wellness and grant opportunities.

For information regarding future conferences in the city’s Partnership for Change to End Homelessness, contact Linda King at lking@lowellma.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Ground, Building Community

habitat 040Dirt.

Today that is all you will find on the cleared vacant lot at 49-55 Rock St. in the city’s Acre neighborhood.

Come back next year at this time and you’re sure to find a radically different scene. Kids playing, grass growing, a jack-o-lantern standing guard on the front porch.

The groundbreaking for the Rock Street houses on October 25, 2012.

The groundbreaking for the Rock Street houses on October 25, 2012.

Thursday morning, city and state officials joined Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell and their sponsors in breaking ground on the organization’s first project in Lowell since the construction of three duplexes on Harmony Way in the city’s Back Central neighborhood in 2004.

Two duplexes will be built on the lot, donated to Habitat for Humanity by the city, providing a homeownership opportunity for four families.

habitat 003

“It is the build of a house, the build of a home, the build of a family, the build of a community,” said Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell Executive Director Brenda Gould. “When a family thrives a neighborhood thrives and the community is strengthened.”

Jim Silva, President of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell Board of Directors said the organization has built 24 homes in the region since 1991 in Bedford, Billerica, Reading, Westford and Lowell.

“We are proud to be back in Lowell,” he said, praising the leadership and vision of City Manager Bernie Lynch, Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke and his team at the Department of Planning and Development, Mayor Patrick Murphy and the entire City Council.

Those chosen to own the homes are not given them for free; they are granted and must pay back a 0% 30-year mortgage. Applicants are vetted to determine they do have a steady income and are required to invest 400 hours of sweat equity in building their home.

Silva said the organization is able to build affordable housing through partnerships with cities and town and sponsorships from businesses.

Sponsors for the Rock Street project include: Netscout, Cisco, RE/MAX Prestige, Progress Software, Litle & Co.; IBEW 103; and Greater Lowell Technical High School.

During the recent economic downtown, the worst recession the nation has seen in decades “the dream of homeownership has been beyond the reach of so many,” said state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, applauding Habitat for Humanity for remaining focused on their mission of making that dream a reality.

Donoghue also recognized city officials for continually moving forward with efforts to strengthen the city “block by block.”

habitat 011Mayor Patrick Murphy, dressed in blue jeans, a blue button-down shirt and Red Sox cap, brought some levity to the event (as he has been known to do).

“I notice a lot of suits in the crowd . . . I thought we were going to get down to work,” he said, eliciting laughter from those gathered.

Murphy presented Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell with a citation congratulating them on the new project, a great partnership that will assist the city in its goal to revitalize the Acre neighborhood.

This project and others will provide “strong, stable, affordable housing throughout the city to strengthen our neighborhoods throughout,” Murphy said.

habitat 029habitat 046City Manager Bernie Lynch said the city is proud to partner with Habitat on this project, the latest of many that have been part of the urban renewal of the Acre over the last 15 years, a movement that has brought millions of dollars in public and private investment into the neighborhood.

Former Mayor Jim Milinazzo, a member of the Habitat Board of Directors, often whispered in Lynch’s ear that the city should partner with the organization.

“I didn’t have to be convinced that much,” Lynch said, adding the decision to ask the City Council to approve the donation of the Rock Street parcel to Habitat was a “no-brainer.”

Excitement for the project spreads beyond city, state and Habitat officials.

John Sheehan, Director of Technical Studies at Greater Lowell Technical High School, whose students will be chipping in some muscle and knowledge to the project, said he expects they will walk away with a strong sense of “personal fulfillment.”

Sheehan said he is hopeful the school’s association with Habitat will “he a long-term partnership that will result not only in a physical building, but so much more.”

“These new homes will change many lives, create jobs and give four families the chance for home ownership,” said Henry Kucharzyk, of ACTION (Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood).

City Councilors Bill Martin and Marty Lorrey and former Mayor Jim Milinazzo were also in attendance at the groundbreaking.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell, visit http://lowellhabitat.org/

Future City Councilors Visit City Hall

hellenic 061Mayor Patrick Murphy enjoyed a visit from Pamela Murphy’s 2nd grade class from the Hellenic American Academy Tuesday morning. They asked good questions about city government and the role of the Mayor and agree on one important issue . . . Mayor Murphy is more handsome than the city’s first Mayor Elisha Bartlett.

hellenic 007

Mayor Murphy introduces the kids to Mayor Luther Lawrence

Mayor Murphy introduces the kids to Mayor Luther Lawrence

Mayor Murphy introduces the kids to Pericles.

Mayor Murphy introduces the kids to Pericles.

He was very taken by the ornate fireplace in the Mayor's Reception Room

He was very taken by the ornate fireplace in the Mayor’s Reception Room

hellenic 051

Heated debate

Heated debate

hellenic 041hellenic 038hellenic 032hellenic 028

Future City Councilors

Future City Councilors

Yup.

Yup.

DA and City Officials Launch Effort to Curb Domestic Violence

Bernie Lynch, Kathy Kelley, Ken Lavallee and Gerry Leone at the GLEAN kick-off.

In the last five years there have been 120 homicides attributed to domestic violence in Massachusetts.

“That is 24 a year, 24 too many,” said Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone.

Monday morning, Leone joined Lowell Police Superintendent Ken Lavallee, City Manager Bernie Lynch and Alternative House Executive Director Kathy Kelley in rolling out GLEAN (Greater Lowell Evaluation and Advisory Network), a community-response task force aimed at combating domestic violence through intervention, education and training.

Modeled after a similar program in Newburyport, the team, made up of representatives from 23 law enforcement, educational, social service and health organizations ranging from the DA’s Office and Lowell Police to Lowell General Hospital, UMass Lowell, and Community Teamwork, will meet monthly bringing their expertise on the different factors and facets of the domestic violence problem together in discussing high risk cases (70 of which have already been identified).

Middlesex DA Gerry Leone

“Domestic violence extends beyond the four walls of a home, but it is difficult to penetrate those walls. It takes a community; it takes eyes and ears,” Leone said. “If you can predict it, you can prevent it.”

Six other High Risk Assessment and Rapid Response Teams have also been established in Ayer, Cambridge, Concord, Framingham, Somerville and Stoneham.

The goal is prevention through intervention, education, and training; to both punish and deter those who abuse or consider abusing a domestic partner or dependent and to empower rather than intimidate victims as they navigate through the criminal justice system.

The abusers need to be stripped of the power and control on which they thrive.

Lavallee said his department approached the DA’s office a couple of months ago as data began showing a significant increase in aggravated assault due to domestic violence.

He added as the result of the implementation of GLEAN, every member of the Lowell Police Department will undergo four hours of training in high risk factors, lethality assessment and the high-risk team model.

LPD Superintendent Ken Lavallee

“It’s going to save lives,” said Lavallee.

“We will work to contain the perpetrators and detain the perpetrators while keeping the victims safe, more safe than ever before,” said Kelley, who was instrumental in the formation of the City Manager’s Domestic Violence Task Force in the 1990’s under City Manager Brian Martin.

The task force remains active today under the stewardship of City Manager Bernie Lynch, who said the formation of GLEAN is another in a string of Lowell partnerships aimed at tackling complex issues.

“We need to do more and this GLEAN effort is one more step in making that happen,” he said. “Together we can make a difference.”

Among the more than 50 in attendance at the GLEAN kick-off at the Boott Mill were: Mayor Patrick Murphy, City Councilor Vesna Nuon, School Committee member Robert Gignac, Greater Lowell Technical High School Superintendent Mary Jo Santoro,  Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, and Massachusetts Department of Correction Commissioner Luis Spencer.

Josh Sullivan, second from left, a student at Greater Lowell Technical High School, designed the GLEAN logo.

An Honor Worthy of Champ

Saturday Oct. 20 116When Dennis Krysiak needed a laugh he knew who to call.

The champion tennis player would ring Dave Conway, lure him down to the tennis courts at Shedd Park and torture him for a while.

“I certainly think of him when I pick up these crutches,” said Conway, who recently Saturday Oct. 20 098underwent a knee replacement. “The majority of the knee replacement was because of Dennis moving me up and down the court.”

Conway wouldn’t give up those days of being tortured on the court for anything. It was on those days, between matches, when he and Krysiak, colleagues at Lowell High School, became best friends.

“Once you met him, you never forgot him,” Conway said of his fun-loving, but competitive friend and frequent doubles partner.

In 2010, two years after Krysiak had been diagnosed with cancer, the duo won a bronze medal at the Senior Games in Springfield. Conway was proud; Krysiak disappointed.

“Third place isn’t bad?!”  asked the incredulous Krysiak. “You’ve got to be kidding me, next year there needs to be improvement.”

Saturday Oct. 20 097“Yes, Coach,” responded Conway.

But, next year never came. Krysiak, a long-time LHS tennis coach, teacher and member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, died of cancer on June 7, 2011. He was 61-years-old.

On Saturday morning, Krysiak’s family, friends, colleagues and students joined city and state officials in dedicating the tennis courts at Shedd Park in his honor.

The idea was Conway’s. He brought it to City Councilor Rita Mercier, who chairs the City Council’s Parks and Recreation subcommittee.

Mercier said although she did not know Dennis Krysiak, she needed only to hear about him from those who did to know naming the tennis courts in his honor was the right thing to do. In a show of city government teamwork, she presented the motion to her colleagues, who approved it and sent it along to the Board of Parks for final approval.

Saturday Oct. 20 109Krysiak’s wife, Sharon, said the monument unveiled at Shedd Park on Saturday by herself and Dennis’ mother Alice, is perfect because it gives family and friends a place to go to remember him. His ashes were scattered at sea, in the place where he caught his biggest lobsters.

“Dennis would have absolutely loved this,” Sharon Krysiak said of her husband who, in addition to playing tennis, was a member of the undefeated LHS 1967 football team, played hockey and ran track. “It all started here at Shedd Park. Although he played a lot of sports, tennis is the one that took him from Shedd Park throughout the United States.”

In 2007, Krysiak competed in the Senior Olympics in Kentucky and again in 2009 in San Francisco.

But, wherever he went, Krysiak never forgot from where he came.

“He always introduced himself as ‘Dennis Krys — Lowell, Mass.,” smiled Sharon Krysiak.

Saturday Oct. 20 065City Manager Bernie Lynch served as the Master of Ceremonies for Saturday morning’s ceremony. State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, State Rep. Dave Nangle, and Mayor Patrick Murphy presented citations in Dennis Krysiak’s honor.

Saturday Oct. 20 077Saturday Oct. 20 083Saturday Oct. 20 082Saturday Oct. 20 074Others in attendance included: City Councilor Marty Lorrey, Lowell School Committee members Jim Leary and Robert Gignac, Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco, LHS Headmaster Ed Rozmiarek, President of the United Teachers of Lowell Paul Georges, former LHS wresting coach George Bossi, former LHS Athletic Director and Krysiak classmate Brian Martin, former LHS basketball coach and Krysiak teammate Dennis Canney, Daley School Principal Liam Skinner, Lowell School Administrators Association President Susan Smith, Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee member George O’Hare, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Tom Bellegarde, and Assistant to the City Manager Henri Marchand.