Great Minds Think Alike: Arts Research Collaborative

Gwen Strahle, "Cities 4", oil on canvas, 66” x 52”.


by Flavia Cigliano

Founded in 2009, the Arts Research Collaborative (ARC) in Lowell, Massachusetts quickly established itself as a cultural presence in the heart of the city, committed to working with the arts communities of both Lowell and the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML).

The concept for a professional workspace and gallery came from three colleagues in the Art and Design Department: Jim Jeffers, Denise Manseau and Stephen Mishol, who explained, “We wanted to create a hybrid space where our students could have more direct interaction with professional artists.” Both Manseau and Mishol were quick to acknowledge the critical role Jim Jeffers played in developing ARC. “It was Jim who found this space, and we would not be here without him. He was really the straw that stirred the drink. I know we are indebted to him to this day and he remains a great friend,” Mishol said.

According to Manseau, establishing the Arts Research Collaborative was first and foremost in response to the need for a professional studio space for the three co-founders. “We started by looking for a place to work, but also with the idea of bringing UMass to the down-town by having small shows and student events,” she said.

“Early on we held a postcard fundraiser downtown — people loved it, it was very successful. The community’s reaction to the postcard show sealed the prospect of establishing ARC in downtown Lowell,” said Manseau. “We continue to help out with fundraising events for the students — whether a postcard show or silent auctions, we find a way to incorporate fundraising events for the students into our programming.”

The founders’ vision was to give the students experiences that could not be accommodated in a classroom setting or within the curriculum of the university. “We try to make a difference, to make a difference to our students and to the city of Lowell,” stated Mishol. “By expanding their lessons down here, giving them a chance to think like professional artists, allowing them to exhibit in a professional space, having them interact with the community and the city, you provide things that really can’t be replicated in the classroom.

“Nothing could be more experiential than making a painting or drawing, and an extension of that is when artists put their work into the world. That was the thinking originally – we could really offer more experiences not only to the students, but to the Lowell community as well. It gives opportunity for discourse that students miss once they leave school. That’s significant. ARC has become a hub as students are able to come here for these shows, meet the artists, see their colleagues, and reconnect with each other. It gives them an opportunity for a continuing, ongoing dialog. It’s all part of a larger process.”

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