Happy 15th Anniversary Western Avenue
A Thousand Stories, One Destination
Western Avenue | Studios & Lofts is a creative community fifteen years in the making. When real estate developer Karl Frey first toured Lowell and came to understand the importance of America’s first Urban National Park, he was drawn to the fabric of the city’s Industrial Revolution Mill infrastructure. That was back in 2004, and Frey quickly came to learn the strength of a good local government and preservationist attitude. With a developer’s optimism of what might be, he purchased the 265,000 square foot complex of light industrial space made up of five buildings on the Pawtucket Canal.
What once was the Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company back in the early 1900’s, was to continue on as a commercial real estate endeavor with large tenants. While this remained Frey’s intent, life quickly took him and the buildings on another path.
Art is the Handmaid of Human Good
On a fateful night in March of 2005, the Arts League of Lowell held its monthly meeting in the building. Out of that evening, a new path to the future emerged for Frey and the idea of expanded artist studio space in Lowell became a reality for the artists. Says Frey, “It took some convincing but each of us needed the other just as much”. That fall 45 artists moved into 33 studios, and the rest as they say, is history. It took until 2012 for the entire complex to be renovated into artist work only studios, numbering 250, and artist live/work lofts, numbering 50, so that now the complex fulfills the space needs of 370+ artists. The commitment the artists gave to Frey to keep the community intact through tough times has convinced him to work towards the goal of maintaining Western Avenue permanently as a haven for artists.
Creative Businesses of All Sizes
Every creative community needs a gallery and in 2008 a group of artists opened The Loading Dock Gallery as a cooperative. Membership has ranged from 30-50 artists over the years with shows going up every month. The Gallery is an integral space within Western Avenue providing a showcase for artists with consistent access to the public.
Over the years, Western Avenue has welcomed small creative businesses. Navigation Brewing Company relocated to what was once the boiler room for the buildings. They added a taproom and open to the public with food trucks and an outdoor pavilion. Pompei Stained Glass Studio is a family team that creates custom pieces window and inserts as well as glass art and jewelry. Assemble Lab offers design and technical services to the garment industry assisting established and upcoming fashion designers with their design and samples. Refuge Lowell teaches after school art programs with a specialty in portfolio development for young artists looking to apply to art school. These are just a few.
Welcome to a World of Art
Western Avenue has become a place where the public can explore art and engage in it as well. WA is home to many teachers in their medium, from glass blowing to illustration to painting as well as music. The artists have opened their doors the First Saturday of every month for Open Studios since November 2005, almost without fail, until the pandemic when we moved to virtual open studios and hosting Outdoor Art Markets in the parking lot.
Over 1000 artists having worked or lived on the campus during its first 15 years. The creative legacy of artists from Western Avenue spreads throughout and beyond the City of Lowell. For more of the history of Western Avenue visit our social media feeds, which include an in-depth photo collection of before and after renovations, as well as highlights of artists from the current and past 15 years who have been part of the community.