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Sunday in the Park

A favorite painting of ours is George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte from 1884), a pointillist work which shows all levels of society enjoying a day away from the city and the cares of the workaday world. Today we felt the need to be near the water and headed over to the Esplanade which was certainly getting lots of use. Here’s what we saw: dog walkers, joggers, baby carriages, kids on bikes, trikes, scooters, skateboards and roller blades; there were families, couples, seniors, and solo strollers; sunbathers, shade-seekers, swimmers and sand-castle builders – the beach was crowded! We saw lots of groups settled in for the day with lawn chairs, grills, and a latin beat sounding from car stereo speakers. Some were playing catch, tossing a football, blowing bubbles, flying kites – we even saw some tight-rope walkers! There were people fishing and people boating – many jet skis flew by. People were eating ice cream cones, sipping iced coffee drinks, and having picnics on blankets by the water. The bright sun, sparkling water, light breeze and nearly cloudless skies made the scene like so much like Seurat’s painting! We were happy to be out with fellow Lowellians on this Sunday afternoon.

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MRT play haunts with Ghost-Writer

Michael Hollinger ’s play, Ghost-Writer, a haunting story of love tangled with the agonies of artistic creation, begins this weekend at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. The production, the last in a season that stands out as one of  MRT’s finest in recent memory, runs until May 13 and is well worth the price of admission.

As Picasso famously said, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth,” Hollinger explores fictional truth as the “only truth that matters” and as a way of making things more true.  The play lets you inside the writing process and as you watch, it connects two people in an intimate bond that seems to defy the boundary of death. Yet, is that truth or merely the construct of the protagonist? There are hints that support various conclusions, but in the end, Hollinger leaves it up to the viewer to decide.

The play is well written and interesting, with clever dialogue­. The three actors are also exceptional: Franklin Woolsey as the statuesque writer, who would “wait for words to appear”;  Rebecca Harris as Myra, whose facial expressions and presence convey so much more than mere words; and Maureen Garrett, the lively, jealous wife, whose outsider status and deep love for her husband provide provocative conflict as well as surprising empathy.  Although the pace can be slow at times, this subtle, cerebral and nuanced look at reality, writing and relationships proved satisfying. Don’t miss it!

posted in Art, Local Groups, Theater | 1 Comment

Lowell – Looking Good on Film

I unfortunately missed the Lowell Film Collaborative’s presentation of The Invention of Lying when in came out on DVD, but we watched it soon after, and as Dick mentions, the scenes of Lowell are great. It is fun to see the actors dining at La Boniche and Cobblestones, the aerial views of the city are lovely, as well as the brick buildings and cobblestones. Wow, we live in a cool city! The movie was okay (I agree with the Globe’s assessment that they ducked the big issues that were raised); but, for us, seeing Lowell on film made it great.

What I’m left wondering is, how did they happen to pick Lowell? I guess they needed an old-fashioned looking place that could serve as an alternate universe; and I suppose, that was a city, not a town. Here’s the Washington Post’s take on the movie, wherein they describe the setting as “a nondescript town (charmingly played by Lowell, Mass.).” In any case, it will be interesting to see if Lowell catches on as a movie set – sometimes nondescript can be a good thing!

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Whistler weekend

My first stop while in DC last weekend, was the Freer Gallery, which intrigued me because of a connection with our own native son, James McNeil Whistler (I believe Whistler only lived in Lowell for the first two years of his life and, as a Bohemian artist, always denied his industrial revolution roots; however, he was born here, so we get to claim him). As an aside, his birthplace, the Whistler House Museum in Lowell, features a copy of his most famous painting, “Arrangement in Grey and Black”, also known as “Whistler’s Mother” as well as some charming contemporary art work and many of his etchings, and tidbits of Lowell history. What I was particularly interested in at the Freer though, was “The Peacock Room.” This was a dining room that Whistler took over decorating for a wealthy friend and patron, Frederick Leyland. Whistler got carried away and, while the businessman was absent, painted the walls a beautiful rich blue-green, gilded the shelves, painted golden Peacock motifs on the panels and changed the entire look of the room. The two had a falling out over the cost, as well as the artist’s presumption, and Whistler added two fighting peacocks on one of the walls. After Leyland’s death, the entire room was purchased by a wealthy American businessman, Charles Lang Freer, another friend and patron of Whistler’s who also collected Asian art, along with Whistler’s paintings and etchings. Freer had the room installed in the DC mansion that he was having built to house his art collection. In addition to the dining room, we viewed a range of Whistler’s paintings and etchings (he was ranked right up with Rembrandt in etching), and gained a new appreciation of his art. At my next stop, the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art, we saw a few more Whistler’s, including the rather strange “Symphony in White, No 1.” I’m sure there are more Whistlers to be viewed in DC, but all in all, it turned out to be quite a Whistler weekend in Washington!

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Include the Friends in your weekend plans

There’s a lot going on around the city this weekend with the Lowell Open Studios and Arts Festival beginning tonight and running through Sunday. This year’s event will also feature a Youth Arts Recognition ceremony in honor of all the young people who participated in the festival. In addition, the Friends of Lowell High School will host a party on Saturday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the group. Along with great music by LHS alumnus Ralph Funaro, delicious desserts, and a chance to thank founding members for an astounding three decades of supporting one of the best urban high schools in the state, attendees will get to participate in a fabulous silent auction featuring more than 50 items. Money raised from the event will go toward the FLHS Scholarship Fund. Tickets are $30 each or $50 per couple, and can be purchased at the door Saturday evening, Sept. 26, at Long Meadow Golf Club, 165 Havilah Street, Lowell, 7-11 pm. Earlier this week, The Sun published an article about the group’s history and current role at the high school. Saturday’s anniversary celebration will not only mark the group’s longevity and impact on decades of high school students, but should also be a rocking good time.

posted in Art, City Life, Education, Local Groups, Lowell High, Youth | 0 Comments

Sugar & Spice Weekend sounds fun

I’m going to avoid the mall traffic this Saturday and look for unique gifts by going downtown to the Holiday Market Place at the Brush Art Gallery and Studios, 256 Market Street (behind the National Park Visitor Center). Special hours for the Sugar & Spice Weekend are 11-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and shoppers will be able to sample free sweets as part of the “Cookie Competition,” which includes voting for the winning cookie along with getting recipes and warm refreshments (another reason not to sit in traffic on Daniel Webster Highway). Visiting the gallery is always a pleasant, stress-free experience and a great way to find special gifts for those hard-to-buy-for folks. But watch out, if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to resist picking up a little something for yourself too.

posted in Art, City Life, Local Groups | 1 Comment

Holiday events in Lowell start Saturday

Forget ‘Black Friday’, the best way to kick-off the holiday season is tomorrow, Saturday, in downtown Lowell! Augmenting the annual City of Lights Parade, which starts at Jackson Street at 4:30 pm and proceeds to City Hall, is a new Holiday Art Stroll, from noon to 4:00 pm. While visiting participating shops, galleries, museums and restaurants you will enjoy holiday street performers and have the chance to vote for the best hot chocolate in town. I like to do my holiday shopping in Lowell and one of my favorite places to find unique gifts is the Brush Art Gallery. On Saturday they will have jazz and a cookie contest. After the parade, photos with Santa at City Hall are an option for families, then head over to St. Anne’s for a holiday choral concert. For more information on all the events, visit the COOL website.

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No bailout for the arts

Last Sunday was an unusually theatrical day for me. First, I attended a production of Once Upon a Mattress at the Peacock Players in Nashua with two 12-year-olds who thoroughly enjoyed the performance. (I did too.) That evening, my husband and I attended opening night of Skylight at Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT). This is our second year as season ticket holders, which despite my initial concern regarding conflicting schedules, has turned out to be a wonderful investment in Date Night and the immediacy of live theatre. Both events that day included fund-raising pitches to the audience. In MRT’s case, Artistic Director Charles Towers spoke about how difficult financial times were at the theatre lately. With state funding cut 75% this season (from $100,000 to $25,000) and no government bailout on the horizon, the theatre must turn to the community for its continued existence. The reality is, those who value live theatre must support it. That means attending shows and contributing to the cause—especially during tough economic times. Unfortunately theatre, like other arts and non-profit groups that vitally enrich our community, will never be on the short list for bailouts—unless we do the bailing ourselves.

posted in Art, Local Groups, Money Matters, Theater | 0 Comments

Culture counts

A reader commented on my previous post about the upcoming course at the Revolving Museum taught by Bob Forrant and referenced CultureCount as a great resource. Created by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), CultureCount seeks to quantify the contributions made by creative and cultural oranizations. A similar effort was made by The Non-Profit Alliance of Greater Lowell who commissioned their own study a few years ago. Called “Community Threads,” the publication highlights the integral role played in our community by Non-Profits (including cultural groups), who meet the critical needs of many diverse groups while also providing gainful employment to local residents. CultureCount takes this effort to a new level with a tool called the “CultureCount Impact Calculator,” which is being piloted in Massachusetts. This interactive tool will “demonstrates the economic impact of the nonprofit cultural sector and then estimates how changes in the sector affect a community or region’s employment, income, and property values.” Given the troubling reappearance of Question 1 on this year’s ballot, these types of studies and statistical analyses could be extremely helpful in showing people how important the non-profit sector is to the region as a whole.

posted in Art, Local Groups, State Concerns | 0 Comments

More music in the park

The Friends of Tyler Park present their last show of the season tonight with a favorite from last year: Jan Kearney and the Lost Onion. This non-traditional blues band impressed the crowd when they opened for Los Lobos at Boarding House Park last September, and tonight will be another chance to enjoy their unique sound. Looks like great weather for a concert, and as usual, the Friends will offer free hot dogs, popcorn and lemonade. The fun starts at 6:30 pm; the band plays from 7:00-8:00 pm.

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