Bike Racks: Lessons about Getting Allies and Calls for Artists

bike2The Lowell-Themed Artistic Bicycle Racks project is one of two to come out of the “wild card” group. It didn’t win the online vote; it won because folks who were passionate about it showed up at the summit ready to advocate for it. The Artistic Bike Rack idea had support from the Lowell Bike Coalition, and they drew in 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.

What’s been going on?

This group was able to accomplish an impressive amount in a short time. They set their first meeting soon after the summit, and quickly developed a plan to obtain funding, create design guidelines, put out a call for artists, and select suitable locations.

Their fundraising efforts have been remarkably successful. They set up a GoFundMe page, which so far has raised $1,700, including donations from individuals, the Greater Lowell Convention and Visitors Bureau, and beloved downtown staple Cobblestones. They also won a competitive grant from the Lowell Cultural Council.

The funding enabled them to put out a call for artists with a cash prize for design, materials, and fabrication. From among the artists’ submissions, the committee selected two designs, and once the fabrication planning is complete, they hope to partner with the Greater Lowell Technical High School to manufacture the racks.

That they have locations, donations, and a plan for fabrication is a testament to this group’s impressive ability to bring allies on board and get others excited about the idea. Lisa Arnold, one of the group’s leaders, traces this back to a crucial moment at the summit. Within the Wild Card group, it was clear that they had a lot of support for the bike rack idea, and it was suggested that those interested immediately separate. Lisa pushed back, pointing out that if the idea was going to succeed it had to have the support of the non-cycling community to survive and thrive.

Early in the process, the group scouted prospective locations with City of Lowell staff.

Early in the process, the group scouted prospective locations with City of Lowell staff.

They’ve been able to bring many others on board, probably due to a combination of it being a great idea and the dedicated and energized outreach of group members. The National Park Service is on board, offering the spot in front of the Mogan Center, and the continuing input and support of Christine Bruins. Christine’s willingness to set aside time for a community project is good news for Lowell going forward. Mill No. 5, offering another spot, once again proves itself a center of innovation and creativity in the community. Deb Belanger of the Greater Lowell Convention and Visitors Bureau has been another important ally. Finally, networking with Curtis LeMay of the Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee has provided a possible avenue for fabrication, as the Voke students may be able to construct them as a project.

Lisa Arnold says that working on this project has been a challenge and an opportunity for her as an introvert. She says it’s gotten her to events to network, and given her something to talk about as she meets new people. Connecting and empowering community leaders is one of the larger goals of DIY Lowell, and so hearing that it has done just that for her means that DIY Lowell is fulfilling its mission.

Calls for Artists: Lessons learned?

The group used this Call for Artists to solicit designers for two bike racks.

The group used this Call for Artists to solicit designers for two bike racks.

The most challenging aspect for the group was the request for proposals. They just didn’t get as strong a response as they hoped for. Lisa has some guesses about why. They chose to ask for technical drawings rather than loose sketches, and that may have been too high a bar for entry for some. The open period also took place in December to January, over UML’s holiday break, and Lisa suspects that might have limited their ability to capture student interest. Finally, they found it more challenging than they expected to communicate with the artist community. Some hiccups are always a part of a process like this, but maybe hearing about these will help a future project plan around them.

And what’s next?

They’ll soon be releasing their finished concepts and moving on to fabrication. From there, if all goes well they should start being installed over the summer.  If you want to get involved, you can join the group as it moves forward, or donate to their GoFundMe.

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