Activate Mill Street
In Fitchburg, Massachusetts, a community of just over 40,000, Activate Mill Street has transformed a forgotten alley into a vibrant place for people to gather and attend events. A small outdoor stage, community-created art, low-cost lighting, and a painted sidewalk combine to create a lively, inviting space.
In 2019, through an open call process, Activate Mill Street organizers selected ten local artists who installed vibrant art in the alley off of a main commercial corridor. The alley also was reused to allow for on-site events such as from yoga classes, breakdance competitions, and a concert series. It’s not uncommon to walk by and see someone meditating quietly or a group of friends enjoying coffee together. Activate Mill Street’s purpose, however, is not only to provide a gathering space. It aims to increase foot traffic and patronage of small businesses on Main Street. It has succeeded in drawing people to the area and generating positive buzz about the city.
Through crowdfunding, community members generated half of the funds initially needed to bring Activate Mill Street to life. MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program, the Fitchburg State University Foundation, and ReImagine North of Main rounded out its budget. The City of Fitchburg Department of Community Development recruited two architectural students to provide pro bono project designs.
The project team continues to invest in the space as a means to promote art and culture. In February of 2021 a team of three local artists installed new art on the rear windows of a building right above the main Mill Street sight.
Activate Mill Street is a part of a broader plan to revitalize districts in Fitchburg using arts and culture. The local CDC NewVue Communities, in partnership with the Fitchburg Art Museum is leading the development of the Fitchburg Arts Community, a complex of affordable housing and studio spaces for local artists. The initiative is focused on redeveloping three former municipal buildings: the Fitchburg Academy, City Stable, and B.F. Brown Middle School. At the same time, Fitchburg State University is working to activate the Theater Block, a vacant Main Street complex, so that it can host student plays and off-Broadway productions.
Property Type: Commercial Structure
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Large Scale (e.g. Sculpture; mural)
Project Purpose: Commercial Revitalization
Initial Cost: $50,000-$100,000
Funding Source: Crowd sourcing; Public funding; Philanthropy
Organization Type: Nonprofit - Other
Implementation Partners: Nonprofits - Other; Local government
Community Type: Urban