DIY Lowell Blog

DIY Lowell Night

Inviting you to DIY Lowell Night, a pizza party at UnChARTed Gallery to thank DIY Lowell’s volunteers and donors. Learn about DIY Lowell’s community projects! Hear the unveiling of DIY Lowell’s 2016 plans! Pizza, presentations, and music will be included.

Free for DIY Lowell volunteers. $5 donation at the door for everyone else. Sign up for the Facebook event here!

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The 2015 Idea Run-Down

The previous post discussed the DIY Lowell process of idea submission, voting, and the idea summit. This post will give an overview of the five projects coming out of the summit and where they’re at now.

Downtown History Trail

historytrail2Although the voting was close for many of the ideas, Downtown History Trail was the exception: it was the most popular idea by many votes. It attracted a pool of talented individuals, some more experienced than others. They felt they got a slow start because they spent much of the kick-off summit discussing an appropriate scope for the project—where the trail should go, whether it should have a mobile phone app, and it should be marked. Because of that, they had another session very soon after the first where they picked roles based on their interest. From there on out, they met about once every three weeks to a month to update one another on their progress and make decisions.

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The Downtown History Trail group meets with representatives from different organizations.

After discussing the trail idea with Steven Stowell, the administrator for the Lowell Historical Board, and a group of park rangers at Lowell National Historical Park, they sketched out a trail based on the original plans for the National Park. The trail will be sketched out with spray chalk stencils and interpretive signs will be placed at key points along the trail. Their plan was well-received at a meeting with officials from the historic board, COOL, and the National Park. They credit much of the success to having one member draft an outline of what their options were and how the project could be phased—so they could concentrate on the first steps while keeping larger-scale ideas on paper for future years.

Planting Fruit Trees

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The Fruit Trees group found success by partnering with other groups and events.

The planting fruit trees group had a different experience. This group’s idea was to find a space—public or private—to plant a fruit tree that the community could support and that would provide free food for neighbors. With the success of one site, they might be able to replicate it throughout the community. Although the group generated some great interest at the summit, they were unable to find a time to meet afterward. After several months, the group reconvened, but lost a few members. Despite this, the group made great progress by meeting with key individuals, such as Jane Calvin at the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust. She pledged a sapling donation, and the group leader was able to re-energize the group by making a formal announcement at the film screening of “The Fruit Hunters,” co-hosted by Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust. The leader says they “got a GREAT show of support with folks signing on to learn more and be a part of it.” Their next steps are reaching out to private land owners.

 

Bus Stop Libraries

The Bus Stop Libraries group faced similar problems with finding an initial meeting time. The idea was to install one or more waterproof cabinets stocked with books at bus stops, so bus patrons could take or leave books as they waited for the bus. They coordinated through Facebook, which turned out to be a great spot to brainstorm ideas, but the group found it difficult to make progress from that stage. Once again, they found meeting with key individuals and institutions to be the way forward. They’re gathering information from Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, which has sponsored similar “Little Free Libraries” at the Boys and Girls Club and Rotary Park.

Artistic Bicycle Racks

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Members of the Bike Rack group–and Eric Sack of Lowell Makes–surveying locations downtown with City of Lowell staff.

The wildcard group ultimately split into two smaller groups, each pursuing a project. The Artistic Bike Rack group was composed of members of the Lowell Bicycle Coalition and others who were interested in the idea of promoting bicycling and art downtown. Their idea was to install one or more bike racks that would be works of art in their own right and provide a safe spot to park bicycles.

They set their first meeting soon after the summit, and sketched out a plan of what they would need as soon as possible: funding, design guidelines, a call for artists, and locations. Each group member pursued one of those action items. The group had regular meetings between once and twice a month so that members could update on progress along with setting up a “google group” so that any one member could email all the other members in the group.

With an initial push to get basic introductory text put together as soon as possible, that text was used to set up a GoFundMe page in which the group has raised more than $1,500, and a winning grant application to the Lowell Cultural Council (and several other grant applications). The group recently closed their call for artists and formed a partnership with Great Lowell Technical High School, who may fabricate the bicycle racks with artist designs if the artist is unable.

View from Christian Hill

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Over thirty people shared snacks and spotted Boston landmarks such as the Prudential building.

The View from Christian Hill group was the other wildcard group, and they successfully organized a viewing party at the reservoir of Christian Hill. The group was small, but the idea was simple: bring a few telescopes to the reservoir, print out a few guides of interesting sights one can see from the hill, bring some food, and advertise via Facebook and word of mouth. This drew more than 30 people to the hill, talking about the neighborhood, meeting neighbors for the first time, and learning more about DIY Lowell.

With the overview of groups complete, our next posts will dive into different lessons each project group is learning along with the lessons we’re learning as a fledgling organization. We hope you’ll stay tuned! We welcome any questions and suggestions for future posts.

2015: The DIY Lowell Idea Process

This is the first of a regular series of posts about DIY Lowell groups, what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it. We hope it’s a way for current and future groups to learn from one another and for everyone to learn from other groups. In addition, we hope that other institutions and people will contribute, and this will become a treasure-trove of tools and tips to getting things done in Lowell. But before all that, we want to talk about how we started.

Sovanna Pouv, CMAA Executive Director, filming our interview!

Sovanna Pouv, CMAA Executive Director, filming our interview!

The story so far: In May and June of 2015, we built the online forum where we collect ideas for small-scale events and projects in Lowell. There were only a few guidelines: The idea had to be an event or project within City limits, it had to be open to the public, it couldn’t break laws, and it had to be expected to be less than $1,000.

We then promoted it through Facebook, visiting neighborhood events, speaking at neighborhood groups, and even speaking on CMAA’s Khmer-language show. We also placed dropboxes at CMAA and the Lowell Senior Center, where people could write ideas on paper to be collected and added to the online forum later. We collected over 50 ideas from over 40 people as young as eight, seniors, and everyone in between: from a prayer boat ceremony to parking garage beautification to dining events. In some cases, nonprofits are actively pursuing these strategies but need assistance. In other cases, individuals have encountered obstacles they were unable to overcome.

Images illustrating ideas would were shared on Facebook and Twitter

Images illustrating ideas would were shared on Facebook and Twitter

Our most successful publicity was simply sharing each idea we received with a simple graphic on Facebook. People would like and share the ideas, chat about them comments, and sometimes submit more ideas inspired by it. Ideas collected at events would then bridge into the digital world, connecting online and off, and drawing more people into the discussion.

After the submission period ended, we held an online vote that was open to anyone who was willing to help out on one of the ideas, and 74 responded. Our idea was that if only people willing to help out on ideas could vote, those ideas would therefore automatically have the volunteers they needed. The vote was close—in fact, many ideas did not make the cut by only a few votes.

We raised money with a work-a-thon, volunteering 1 hour with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust for every $100 donated.

We raised money with a work-a-thon, volunteering 1 hour with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust for every $100 donated.

About 50 people out of the 74 who voted signed up for the summit, and we picked one idea for every 15 people, meaning the top three ideas were selected. Everyone attending the summit could pick one of those ideas or a fourth “wildcard” group, which eventually selected two additional ideas to pursue. Our plan was that we wanted 8-12 people to discuss each idea, knowing that with any more, there would be “too many cooks”, and with any fewer, there may not be enough people to carry the idea to fruition if a few dropped out.

Representatives from the City, Lowell National Historical Park, Coalition for a Better Acre, Humane Society, UTEC, Community Teamwork Inc, and many other nonprofits joined with ordinary citizens in the summit and put together action plans for each selected idea. DIY Lowell recruited four volunteer facilitators to help each group do such things and choose an official contact/coordinator, set a meeting date, and determine key actions that would need to be undertaken for the project, including stakeholders to contact. Nearly everyone attending was excited and ready to take the next steps! However, that will have to wait for the next post.

Planting Fruit Trees group

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Groups discuss their projects

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Downtown History Trail group

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Bus Stop Libraries group

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The groups reported back to one another at the end of the summit!

Bike Racks in Lowell: Contest with Up to $2,500 Award

Lowell bike rack bike iconThe Artistic Bike Racks group wants to spread the word about two ways you can help them add two new bike racks to downtown Lowell!

Firstly, they have a fundraiser page at https://www.gofundme.com/lowellbikeracks. In addition to the grants they are pursuing, they want to get donations from as many folks as possible to show that Lowellians are committed to improving bike infrastructure, so even small donations are appreciated.

Secondly, they’re accepting design proposals for the two racks until January 6. Two winners will be chosen to receive up to a $2,500 award to design and build the racks, which will be installed near Mogan Cultural Center and Mill No. 5! More information is at http://www.diylowell.org/bike-rack-call-for-artists/

Mogan Cultural Center in Lowell, Massachusetts

Mogan Cultural Center, potential site for bicycle rack

They’re looking for iconic bicycle racks that fit within downtown’s historical context to raise the profile of bicycling, letting those who bike know they’re welcome to visit the shopping opportunities downtown offers. In true DIY Lowell spirit, these bike racks are a test that may lead to even more in the future! Please consider helping them and spreading the word to artists, designers, or potential donors you may know.

Holiday Display Program

Many businesses participate in the City of Lowell’s holiday display contest, but some storefronts are left out because of lack of expertise or because of vacancies. A dozen businesses across downtown responded to an initial email asking if they’d like some help, and we’re helping as many as possible!

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Emanuel Boutique, thanks to volunteer Julia Gavin

We connected donated materials and designers to retail businesses, a bank window, and a vacant window. Look for them throughout downtown!

We’re still raising money to buy supplies for additional businesses in the next week. You can contribute here! We will keep the materials we purchase with the money, so we could re-use them and annually help more and more businesses each year until Downtown Lowell displays become an attraction for the region!

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Vacant storefront at 120 Merrimack, thanks to artist Mary Hart and volunteer Britt Boughner

Donations of old decorations, art supplies, or any other materials would also be super-useful! (Contact info@diylowell.org to let us know if you have anything.) If we collect enough, we will provide modest stipends to our super designers!

If we aren’t able to help you this year, we’re very sorry! But if you’re still interested, we hope we can find even more volunteers and work with more businesses next year! We really want to help everyone bring out their best.

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iWorld, thanks to artist Katherine DuBose

Thanks to All Teams!

Thanks to everyone who attended the Community Idea Summit! The following ideas now have action plans and citizen groups to carry them forward:

Over 50 people attended the summit and dozens more have “raised their hand” and pledged to help in another way! Thanks, too, to everyone who submitted ideas! Every idea got at least one vote, and many missed the top 3 by only 1 or 2 votes! We will keep this website active as an archive for ideas. You may add an idea to the archive here.

Please consider donating to help make the ideas happen. All donations go directly toward projects!

Please email info@diylowell.org if you have any questions or want to help out with a project!

Special Thanks to the following donors ($20+):

  • Merrimack Valley Time Exchange / Coalition for a Better Acre
  • Loom Press
  • Joseph and Donna Smith
  • Made in Lowell
  • Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust
  • Corey Sciuto
  • Elizabeth Greene
  • Felicia Sullivan
  • William Berkowitz
  • Jane Calvin
  • Jack Moynihan
  • Paul Hardin
  • Julia Gavin
  • Sean Thibodeau
  • Sovanna Pouv
  • Gwen Kozlowski
  • Georgia & Glenn Hayes
  • Anonymous
  • Michael Breda

See our complete list of donors here.