Creating mojo in the Gateway Cities

It takes a lot of “mojo” to help smaller industrial cities turn things around.  For 11 mill cities in Massachusetts, what we at MassINC call the Gateway Cities, sparking economic and social innovation often requires thinking out of the box.  That’s where creative placemaking can help local leaders think about their communities in new ways and shape the character of a community around arts and cultural activities.

One great example is the Lowell Folk Festival.  Each July Lowell turns its streets and public spaces into the largest free folk festival in the nation.  Estimates place the crowd for the three day event at more that 150,000.  Julia Olin, the executive director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, says that, “Lowell is the poster child of investment in the creative aspect of culture and how it can help transform a community.” 

It wasn’t always that way in Lowell.  When the festival was started 25 years ago, many local residents were skeptical the city could even pull it off.  Lowell was so down on its luck that the common refrain was “nothing good ever happens here.”  Now Paul Marion, one of the festivals co-founders, calls it the “most visible symbol of this community of collaboration and partnerships that work in Lowell.”  But the superintendent of the Lowell National Historical Park, Michael Creasey, says it more directly: “We haven’t lost our mojo.”

The partnerships and collaboration that worked in Lowell should work in the other Gateway Cities.  At MassINC, we are helping to develop and strengthen creative placemaking efforts through our creative placemaking innovation network.  Through polling, research, and a major event, we will better understand what’s working and what’s not as cities take on creative placemaking projects that reflect their unique assets. 

Along with our partners at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, we’ll be creating some placemaking mojo of our own over the next year! 

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