Lowell High students pay tribute to Greek community with mural in the Acre

July 28, 2023 : The Sun, Cameron Morsberger

The tales of Greece — ancient and contemporary, real and mythological — were brought to Lowell with a wave of Greek immigrants in the early 1900s, and though their population in the Mill City has dwindled over the years, the community’s spirit is kept alive by those in the Acre.

Students at Lowell High School are preserving the cultural heritage and character of that Greek history in the form of a mural on the side of Sophia’s Greek Pantry on Market Street. In collaboration with Project LEARN, a youth nonprofit based in Lowell, the teenagers are paying homage to the neighborhood’s Greek history with art. They put the finishing touches on the piece Thursday morning after nearly two weeks of work.

With paint and brushes, the high schoolers transformed the red-brick wall into their canvas, depicting classic Greek symbols: the Parthenon and Medusa, a Greek warrior charging a chariot into battle and Greek architecture, both in Greece and just feet away.

Rising senior Christian Ang and Pharrell Peau, who graduated in the spring, worked together on the final details of Lowell’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, whose gold Byzantine dome was visible from the mural. Thursday morning, the pair said they were “sharpening” the illustration to make it look more 3D.

In the mural’s early stages, Peau helped sketch the bougainvillea, the pink flowers that fall from the tops of the columns, while Ang — though his design was “canceled” due to lack of space — offered insight to his classmates’ work.

“It’s been really fun actually,” Ang said of the process.

“Honestly, you forget you’re getting paid when you’re doing this,” Peau said.

Their art teacher and supervisor, Eric Allshouse, spent 15 years completing murals with youth in Lawrence before coming to Lowell last fall.

On a trip to Philadelphia, Allshouse said he was inspired by “the power of public art,” setting him on course to create his own works with budding artists. Project LEARN is one of few local agencies that connect with students and teachers to create art in public spaces, an initiative that began in 2019.

The eight Lowell High students and recent graduates seized on the opportunity to draw, sketch and paint their designs themselves, Allshouse said, while he made adjustments digitally with Photoshop.

“An easy way to tell a story about a community, this time a Greek community, or tell a story about anything, is visually,” Allshouse said. “A lot of people walk by here, and some people maybe can’t even speak English, and they can still tell us that they like it and know what it’s about.”

Project LEARN helped obtain the wall, getting permission from the building owner and approval from the Lowell Historic Board. The intention behind the effort was to honor the space in which it stood: The Greek community.

LZ Nunn, the executive director of Project LEARN, said the mural allows students to not only develop artistic skills but also learn from the arts community in Lowell. Ellen Casazza from Curation 250 and Bianca Mauro with BRM Productions have both worked with muralists and served as mentors for the students. The other perk is all the students are being paid for their work.

The mural, which received funding from MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative, already looks “professional and stunning,” all thanks to the kids, Nunn said. To feature art that also reflects the history of the space was important to all involved, Nunn added.

“The Greek community has so many deep ties and roots to this part of Lowell in this part of the Acre,” Nunn said. “And the mural being so close to the Greek church, this wonderful opportunity for worlds to come together and to really celebrate the Greek culture and experience.”

The Acre neighborhood is still home to Greek-Americans and their businesses, including the Athenian Corner Restaurant, Olympos Bakery, the Hellenic American Academy and Olympia Restaurant. As of last year, Lowell is also a sister city to Kalamata, Greece.

Valerie Georgoulopoulos, the owner of Sophia’s Greek Pantry, said customers are entering the store more upbeat because of the new pop of color right outside.

Her mother, Sophia, who founded the business more than 20 years ago, was born in Lowell to a Greek family. Despite Greek immigrants leaving the city, Georgoulopoulos said the mural and Greek businesses signal “a small comeback.”

“Watching it from the beginning has been really, really special,” Georgoulopoulos said. “Everyone around here is so happy to see something like that go up. It’s really eye-catching.”

This is just the first in a series of murals to be completed in the city, the next of which will be near UMass Lowell’s University Crossing, Nunn said. Another, also located in the Acre, will appear later in the summer or early fall.

Arianna “Nev” Morin, a rising junior at LHS, came recommended to Allshouse as a talented artist. She used that talent to work on the first column, paint Medusa and the flowers. While speaking on the experience, a small group of people stopped to admire their artwork, which made Morin feel “famous.”

“It’s really cool, honestly,” Morin said, “because it’s going to be here for a very long time.”

For rising senior Ava Rockwell-Ingram, the mural’s completion hasn’t fully set in yet.
“It’s definitely going to be something that I’m gonna drive past and it’s gonna hit me that I helped make it,” Rockwell-Ingram said.