The Free Soil Arts Collective, an organization based in Lowell, recently celebrated its two-year anniversary.
“I think it’s a real accomplishment,” says Christa Brown, the founder and executive director of Free Soil. “I mean, two years to me is not a really long time. And I think we’ve been able to make a really great impact.”
In light of racial tensions in this country, Brown created the organization to help amplify and strengthen the voices of people of color by providing the community with youth programs, theatrical productions and community projects that shed light on the lived experience of people of color in the Lowell area.
Brown was an actor by trade who became frustrated when she didn’t see enough people like herself represented in the media. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, she decided to start an organization that would spark conversations and inform members of the community about local history.
“My opinion is the Black experience is not brought up enough in the community discourse as it should be,” she says. “We work with all artists of color, but a lot of initiatives have come out specifically for Black history.”
“It will be a documentary theater piece based on the lives of Black people,” Brown says. “We’ll be interviewing Black people who have worked and/or lived in Lowell throughout the years, and then turn those interviews into a play.”
Thinking about my own personal connection with Lowell, I am simply a student at UMass Lowell; I am not a Lowell resident and I am not knowledgeable about its history, aside from the mills. Brown says that one of the goals of her organization is to help people such as myself learn about the history of people of color in Lowell.
“There’s this whole connection between the mills and the cotton in the South that isn’t amplified enough,” Brown says. “People talk about the mills, but they don’t really talk about how, if it wasn’t for slavery, the mills wouldn’t have been able to function. The wealth up here was directly related to that. I think this project in particular is like, just trying to let people know, we have to acknowledge what happened.”
Brown says COVID-19 has created difficulties for the organization, such as the inability to charge for tickets and put on live theater performances. “I just feel like if we could do stuff in person, that’s way more people coming. There’s networking happening, and that same stuff just doesn’t happen virtually,” she says.
There are still ways, however, that the community can use the organization’s resources and get involved with the projects. Free Soil is actively expanding its board membership, accepting donations, and hiring artists of color in all disciplines for events.
Brown created Free Soil Arts Collective because she was annoyed by the lack of representation and realized she had to create it for herself. “To anybody out there who thinks about doing something similar, don’t wait for a seat at the table, just make your own table,” she says. “I think that’s what Free Soil is all about.”