UnchARTed Gallery A Perfect 10 Years in Lowell
LOWELL -- There’s nothing else quite like it in Lowell. Really, there’s not much else like it for miles.
UnchARTed Gallery celebrates its 10th year this summer. And on any given night (except Mondays), you can usually get in for $10 or less, sometimes for free, and enjoy the best in live rock and roll, punk, folk, metal, experimental, local bands and bands from across the country; live record-spinning, comedy, video and multimedia showcases, benefit shows for Planned Parenthood, a Bernie Sanders rally, and new visual art shows every month.
“It’s so supportive of artists, anything goes here. It’s not one type of art, it’s not stuffy here. Even the current show, it’s a little bit of everything,” says Jeff Caplan, a Lowell black-and-white photographer who has been part of the UnchARTed family for three years.
His work is featured in the gallery’s current art show, “Real Quick: an UnchARTed Renter’s Group Show,” which celebrates those 15 artists that support the gallery’s mission by renting the available studio spaces upstairs. The featured pieces include paintings and sculptures.
What makes UnchARTed different, says owner Michael Dailey, is the art and the do-it-yourself vibe.
“It’s not a bar with art on the walls, it’s a gallery with a cafe in the back,” Dailey says, “A bar would only hire a band and do like, a blues set. Whereas here, I want your original music, I want your hot, 30-minute set, and let’s pack four bands in there. And since this is a DIY space, that money at the door goes to the bands, it’s really only ever gas money.”
Andy Twyman knew there was something special about the UnchARTed the first time he walked in on a November night a few years ago. After a rough breakup, he’d just moved from Newburyport back to his parents’ house in Methuen, where he grew up. That’s when a friend told him about UnchARTed, now a Market St. destination.
“The night I came here, it was an open mic. I just went up to someone, and I was like, I want to play. I need to play. I remember everyone getting close because I was emotional, and that’s when I knew I found my new family. Everyone was so welcoming,” Twyman, a 29-year-old photographer, remembers. Twyman soon began to host regular open mic nights at UnchARTed until he went back to school, and now he’s working on a short documentary about the gallery.
In the beginning, UnchARTed was a nine-person artist collective above where Humanity Style is located now.
“It’s really evolved from its original nine-person deal, practically squatting in an uninhabitable second-floor old mill building space to what we’re doing now,” says Dailey.
Dailey came along about six months into UnchARTed’s creation to rent studio space with a friend. The collective later moved to a different Merrimack Street location next door to Edible Arrangements, and “that’s really where we developed our reputation,” Dailey said. He started booking more music shows and renting studio space to more artists, doubling their membership.
When just breaking even on the rent was getting old, Dailey selected 103 Market St. as “UnchARTed 3.0,” with 15 studio spaces rentable to artists upstairs, and a full bar and cafe.
For many artists, UnchARTed is the first place they saw their art on a gallery wall. Dailey remembers a show at their second location for artist Steve Paquin, who does live paintings of bands.
“When we had his show, it was the first time he had ever done a show anywhere. He had 99 paintings. And when he came in and saw them all hung, he broke down and cried. And that for me was worth it. That’s what it should be about: that connection,” Dailey says.
He knows UnchARTed is unique. The only similar space may have been Out of the Blue Too, a former Cambridge artist collective that no longer has a permanent storefront location. And although Market St. has been a better business choice, it still isn’t easy to make ends meet each month.
“In my heart of hearts, eventually I would like to try and open another spot somewhere. It might be easier to do in a city with more money and more resources.,” Dailey says.
But he doesn’t forget that it’s here in Lowell where it all began.
“People say a place like this would do great in New York, but I feel like Lowell needs this,” Dailey says.
“Real Quick: an UnchARTed Renter’s Show” is on display until Aug. 4.