LowellArts: Connecting local artists to audiences for decades

People don’t usually associate small towns with a thriving arts program. Larger cities such as Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids typically have the resources to provide those opportunities. The small city of Lowell, population around 4,500, did not get that memo.

Inspired by a visit from the Artrain USA program in 1976, a group of residents created the Lowell Area Arts Council (Changed to LowellArts in 1977) that focused on community beautification, an art gallery, and theater productions for regional artists. More than 45 years later LowellArts, located on Main Street in downtown Lowell, has been providing outstanding visual and performing arts programming for the Lowell community and surrounding towns.

Run by three full-time staff members and a 10-person board of directors, all of whom have experience in the arts, the nonprofit provides a 4,700 square foot space for visual art galleries and musical/theatrical performances, a large rehearsal room, classroom space, and offices for the full-time staff. One of the staff members, Program Director Laurel Conrad, is proud of the mission LowellArts has upheld over the years.

“Our general mission is to connect audiences and artists through visual and performing arts,” says Laurel Conrad. “Overall, it’s really about giving artists exposure to new and familiar audiences and making sure all voices can be heard. … The arts are very important for education and our health and wellness. Everybody has a bit of creativity in them one way or another, so giving them opportunities to express and explore it is important. We want to be beginner-friendly and [provide] education so if you are not sure and just want to try it out, we got you.”  

“It is so cool to see new artists who have never put their art on display before get really excited to put their piece in the gallery," LowellArts Program Director Laurel Conrad says.

Every five to seven  weeks, the gallery features a handful of regional fine artists, and each year they host The West Michigan Art Competition in the spring and Holiday Artists Market before Christmas. One of its largest events is the Annual Fallasburg Art Festival, a two-day outdoor arts, crafts, and music festival held the third week in September.

The theater program runs four productions each year, including one youth show that is performed at Lowell High School. In October, LowellArts hosted Playbytes by Playwrights, featuring 10 short plays written by playwrights from all over the country (and even New Zealand). The plays were produced, directed, and performed by Grand Rapids area actors — just another effort to connect local audiences and performers to quality theater opportunities.

In the music realm, LowellArts has made a name for itself over the past few years with its Featured Artist of the Month, a program that familiarizes residents with West Michigan musicians.

“We’ll write an article and do a video interview with a local musician in the area chosen by our music committee on the board level,” says Conrad. “The music committee is great at catching some of the musicians on a stage at festivals. The Artist of the Month could be somebody just starting out or it could be a little bit bigger. We try to spread out the genre of music too.”

This relationship between regional artists and residents not only benefits the audiences, but it is a meaningful tool to give artists the opportunity to share their vision with others.

“It is great to be able to encourage other people to go for it whatever their craft may be,” says Conrad. “It is so cool to see new artists who have never put their art on display before get really excited to put their piece in the gallery. Or new actors who are trying it out but find they get bitten by the theater bug. Or new musicians who also haven’t put their music out there yet but they are in the gallery putting on a performance seeing if maybe people like their stuff.”

Conrad is grateful to have a job in the arts, especially in the town of Lowell that has been so supportive of LowellArts for so many years now. “Lowell is a unique community,” says Conrad. “Everybody loves Lowell. It’s a reflection on the people in this town and how close-knit everyone is but still open to newcomers and those who have just moved to Lowell. Everyone I have met has been so welcoming with open arms.”

Learn more about the programming at LowellArts by visiting its website lowellartsmi.org.