Refuge Art School 10 Year Anniversary Relocation


Refuge Art School thanks the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation for the incredibly generous gift of $25,000 to kick off our fundraising and an additional $25,000 match to our first round of fundraising.

As we continue to settle into our new studio, our renovation budget has increased to $120,000. Refuge Art School is grateful for all of the support our community, stakeholders, supporters of the arts, and other donors have offered so far, and would appreciate any amount of support donated to support Refuge Art School: 10 Year Anniversary Relocation Project.

For the past decade, Refuge Art School has developed the talent of the next generation of Lowell artists. After a decade in our cozy studio on the first floor of in Western Avenue Studios, we are celebrating our 10th Anniversary by taking our community to the next level, quite literally.

Support Refuge Art School as we move into our new home, a magical space on the second floor of the Studios. We are custom-building a three-part studio to encourage creativity and collaboration amongst our students, but we need your financial support to purchase materials and labor for the build out, outfit the space with multi-purpose furniture, and restock supplies.

The Origin Story of Refuge Art School
In 2014, Refuge Art School’s Executive Director Nikki Giraffo left her career as an art educator in the private sector to take a challenging new position in the alternative schools of Lowell, MA, teaching across all grades and multiple schools each day in both behavioral and therapeutic settings. She easily identified and developed promising young artists while teaching private AP art, but Nikki found that many of her alternative students possessed similar talents but needed a safe and supportive environment where they could be vulnerable enough to express themselves through art. Nikki identified a need: talented kids needed access to a space and mentorship to develop their passion and artistic skills.

In her first year in the Lowell Public Schools (LPS), Nikki began identifying and recruiting talented art students from LPS, but also from her prior private school, to attend private instruction, outside of the school setting. It was here that Refuge was truly born, with Nikki teaching advanced art concepts from her kitchen in a Western Ave artist loft she shared with her partner and Refuge co-founder, 4 Nichols. Weekly classes occurred for a year until they outgrew their small home-classroom, so Nikki and 4 struck a deal with Western Ave Studios to have a real space in the “Creative Soul of Lowell”. This collaboration birthed a new pilot program that would evolve over the course of a decade into today’s Refuge Art School (RAS). By offering high-quality art education to students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in a safe and expressive environment, Refuge grew to help fill the vacuum in public school art education and bridge the gap between high school and college for local young artists.

Nikki stayed in the alternative schools for two years before taking a position at Lowell’s public Stoklosa Middle School, located just one block from Refuge. Stoklosa offered students more stability and arts funding, but oversized classes were only offered to each student five days a month. Once again, Nikki began identifying young artists within Stoklosa and recruited them into Refuge. Like public schools and colleges, Refuge offers classes by semester while the spring and fall semesters were focused on core curriculum and portfolio development, summer semesters were topic-based and experimental. Refuge continued to grow in its mission of filling the need in Lowell for safe and equitable fine arts youth mentorship operating as an after-school and summer education hub within the artistic heart of Lowell.

For its second metamorphosis, 4, with the help of several alternative school students, built out the new space at Western Avenue with up-cycled materials and whimsical elements, designed to inspire creativity and expression. With grants from the Lowell Cultural Council (LCC), 4 also launched the “Build Something!” design course which took a group of middle schoolers through a STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, art, & math) design course that culminated years later in the construction of a tiny house. LCC grants also allowed Refuge to start a need-based scholarship program to expand youth access to a robust fine arts curriculum. More students found their way to Refuge and, at Nikki’s request, colleges came to the studio to offer portfolio reviews and admissions information to encourage Refuge’s talented students to continue pursuing their art expression after highschool graduation. Just as Refuge was hitting the limits of its physical space, a studio next to Refuge opened up, and 4 went to work again.

As Refuge began its third growth period with the expansion of its physical space, something truly remarkable began. Former students from Nikki’s private school days graduated from their chosen art colleges and returned to Refuge to give back. Some came to give encouragement, others lent a hand, and some stayed to become teachers at Refuge, educating the next generation of artists. In a truly “full-circle” way, Nikki’s dedication to fine arts education, her unique style of mentorship, and her tireless inclusion of all who expressed a need for art had created something truly revolutionary.

With this momentum of ten years, the efforts of a dedicated cadre of staff, the mentorship of a thriving community of artists, and the financial support of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation and grants that Refuge strides forward into its most exciting chapter yet. We are expanding to a beautiful, new, custom space on the second floor of the historic Western Avenue Studios.

Refuge has grown from a weekly five-person class to a weekly offering of a variety of five different courses, each with a roster of 15 students. Through three semesters each year, classes cover topics including portfolio development, fiber, pottery, photography, and film.

Support Our Expansion
We are excited to celebrate our 10th year of providing rigorous art education to the youth of Lowell and the Merrimack Valley as we relocate to our new home, but we need your help and support to do it.

Refuge Art School is seeking donations to raise $25,000 plus fees, to be matched by the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation, to purchase materials and labor for the build out, to outfit the new studio with multi-purpose furniture, and restock supplies. Approximately 2/3 of Refuge students receive a need-based scholarship and pay $150 per class per semester, while the remaining 1/3 of students are full-pay. Refuge is primarily funded through non-tuition sources, and the financial burden to move to a more appropriate space can be significantly lessened through donations.

From July 1st to October 30th, Refuge Art School is running a fundraising campaign to celebrate our 10 year anniversary and relocation.

Refuge Lowell is a project of Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, Inc., a501(c)(3) non-profit tax-exempt organization. (Contributions in support of Refuge Lowell). Donations are greatly appreciated and may be made to Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, Inc. (earmarked for "Refuge Lowell"). All contributions are fully deductible to the extent allowed by law. For a tax deductible donation you can donate here

If you do not need a receipt please support our cause here!

$100.00: General operation support
$250.00: Developing pathways for students who do not have access
$500.00: Greater accessibility supports a more diverse student population
$750.00: Support one need-base scholarship student to attend our program
$1000.00: Support our ceramic studio program by elevated studio space for students to practice in a college- like setting
$2500.00: Support the instructor position at RAS
$5000.00: Support the build for New Refuge Art school

Refuge Art School Vision for 2nd Floor Studio
  • Beautiful, carefully planned spaces show students that they are supported and deserving of time and space to practice their art in a college-like setting, boosting self-worth and encouraging value of practice

  • Premier location by one of the main entrances and a cafe enhance Refuge’s visibility and exposure to visitors and occupants of the Studios, while also providing better studio accessibility to promote a more diverse student population

  • A welcome desk will provide a clear and welcoming location for students and families to check in and an administrative space to support the operation of Refuge Art School

  • Three distinct spaces- a ceramic studio, a multipurpose lab, and a 2-d drawing and painting classroom- filled with storage, will provide the opportunity for Refuge Art School to run multiple classes simultaneously, encouraging collaboration and offering the potential to either increase revenue and/or decrease operating expenses

  • An outfitted ceramic studio for clay work provides students greater access to tools and equipment to further their clay practice, while community tables within the studio encourage collaboration and socialization among the artists

  • A 2-d drawing and painting classsroom offers a variety of work stations, including strategically-planned pull out desktops under storage cabinets to maximize space and function and modular tables and chairs for teachers and students to configure the classroom to best suite the day’s creativity

Your donation to Refuge Art School's 10 Year Anniversary Relocation Project helps make art education a civil right for local youth.

By financially supporting our move and build out of our new and improved custom three-part studio with a ceramic studio, a multipurpose lab, and a 2-d drawing and painting classroom, you are:
  • providing greater exposure and visibility to diverse, talented youth
  • encouraging the creativity and collaboration amoungst our students
  • Broadening access to, promoting awareness of, expanding the impact of Refuge Art School

THANK YOU for your generous donation. We look forward to doubling your impact with the generous match from the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation.

Donations (92)

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  • Christine Quiriy
    • $50 
    • 2 mos
  • Jack Holmes
    • $250 
    • 2 mos
  • Jodi Kriner
    • $100 
    • 3 mos
  • Arlene Hammel
    • $100 
    • 3 mos
  • Kristina Murray
    • $100 
    • 3 mos
See all

Fundraising team: Refuge Art School Fundraising Team (4)

Thor Nichols
Lowell, MA
Courtney Wilson
Team member
Krystal Gratta
Team member
Maxine Farkas
Team member

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