"Art is the handmaid of human good" is the slogan emblazoned on Lowell's city seal.

And it's been art in general -- and arts and cultural organizations more specifically -- that have spearheaded the city's renaissance.

The growth continued in 2012 with these arts-oriented events:

-- The Massachusetts Cultural Council designated the Canalway Cultural District of Lowell, a walkable downtown area bordered by the Merrimack River and Pawtucket Canal, that serves as a center for cultural, artistic and economic activity.

-- The Lofts at Western Avenue opened adjacent to Western Avenue Studios, offering 50 spacious open -- loft living spaces for artists and enhancing the arts community at WAS.

-- UMass Lowell partnered with many city arts, cultural and civic organization's for a seven-month long Dickens in Lowell celebration to mark the bicentenary of Charles Dickens' birth and to commemorate his historic trip to Lowell in 1842. The highlight was a landmark exhibition in the Boott Gallery that explored Dickens' life, work and travels in America.

-- The Zeitgeist Gallery opened on Market Street in the former Olive That and More restaurant/deli space, providing another venue for artists to showcase and sell their work.


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-- Stellar exhibits enticed viewers in venues from the Loading Dock at Western Avenue Studios and 119 Gallery on the outskirts of the arts district to standout shows at the Brush Art Gallery and Studios, Whistler House Museum of Art, New England Quilt Museum and American Textile History Museum. The Arts League of Lowell took up temporary space on Merrimack Street for its holiday show.

-- Comings and goings include the appointment of Susan Halter in April as the city's new executive director of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL), replacing LZ Nunn. Michael Lally resigned as director of the Whistler House Museum of Art, with a search underway for his replacement. Jonathan Stevens is on board as president and CEO of the American Textile History Museum.

-- For fun and to get the public interested in making art, Tutto Bene opened The Art of Wine on Prescott Street, offering an evening of painting instruction and wine-sipping, where everyone goes home with a finished painting.

-- The nearby Chelmsford Center for the Arts opened in the summer, complete with galleries, studios and performance spaces in the old Town Hall in Chelmsford Center.

Nancye Tuttle's email is nancyedt@verizon.net.