Just a twenty minute train ride from Downtown Boston, MA lies the city of Lynn. An early colonial settlement and industrial center, Lynn was long colloquially referred to as the "City of Sin," owing to its historic reputation for crime and vice. Hoping to change that reputation, the city hosted its inaugural mural festival, known as Beyond Walls, this past September. I paid a visit recently to explore the work (which is quite walkable through the Downtown area), and I had the chance to chat with the organizers to find out a bit more about the project.
The Lady of Lynn by FONKi
John Domine: Please tell us a bit about Beyond Walls and the inaugural event this past year.
Beyond Walls: Beyond Walls was born in 2017. Founder Al Wilson and a large committee of volunteers planned four inaugural projects in response to community feedback wanting increased walkability and safety in the downtown and more public art. Taking inspiration from projects in Brooklyn, New York, Kings Cross, London and Wynwood, Miami, Al saw Lynn's rich history, architecture, and burgeoning arts & cultural district as the perfect landscape for a Mural Festival of large scale public art. The Mural Festival began alongside three other projects; installation of 12 pieces of vintage neon artwork, illumination of three unlit underpasses utilizing dynamic LED lighting, and a piece of public sculpture.
The Mural Festival ran from July 13th-23rd in 2017. Over the 10 days, 15 international and regionally renowned artists traveled to Lynn to install massive Murals on the Lynn downtown urban core. Over the festival Beyond Walls held events which included; Life as a Working Artist Talk, at the Lynn Museum, Meet The Artists at Bent Water Brewing Co., a History of American Graffiti Panel at R.A.W. Art Works (a partner youth art therapy organizaiton in Lynn)--led by participating muralists Cey Adams, founding Creative Director of Def Jam Recordings, and Caleb Neelon, co-author of the HarperCollins release “The History of American Graffiti”, and several others. The festival concluded with Rock the Block-- a closing celebration Block Party that boasted 2,700+ attendees and included live painting, bands, djs, food trucks, a beer tent, and a parade along the mural route with a New Orleans marching band leading the way.
JD: Was there a theme for the walls or for the project itself?
BW: The selected artists matched the cultural identities of Lynn’s demographics. These artists in turn put up incredible pieces of art that reflected these backgrounds. Artists were encouraged to learn about the setting of their wall and the City of Lynn’s rich culture and history. Some artists riffed off of each others’ pieces as they spent more time together (artists were housed communally and shared many nights, meals, and car rides together… one artist even humorously equated the festival to a “Fun Summer Camp for artists!”).
JD: How did you select the artists to be included in the project?
BW: We put out a call for artists and received a robust list of entries. Artist selection was made by our volunteer committee and staff. We took into consideration the merit of their portfolio and if their work would enhance the spirit of Lynn’s arts and culture scene. We also chose a roster of artists whose ethnic background was reflective of the city’s diverse demographics. Lynn is one of the most diverse cities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and we strive to have our festival retain the voice and integrity of area residents and honor the character and deep pride of the city.
JD: Will there be another round of walls we can expect for 2018? If so, will they be on new walls, replacing current walls, or a mix of the two? Also, what are the proposed dates for this year's painting?
BW: Yes! We are holding our second Mural Festival August 6th-19th, 2018. All of the 2017 Murals will remain installed. We will have fresh walls, a new roster of artists, and more days (this year’s festival be over a span of 2 weeks).
JD: What has the response to the project been by locals and visitors alike?
BW: There has been an outpouring of support from the community. The project was partially backed by a crowdfunding campaign last spring that raised $80,000+ through nearly 1,400 donors. This crowdfund was then matched generously by MassDevelopment and set things into motion. The festival saw 5,000+visitors, brought significant positive press to the city, and made more than 4.5 million social media impressions. Since the festival ended, we have spoken with many local businesses and community groups and know that, collectively, Lynn is ready to keep this momentum going. Longtime Lynn residents have told us that the Murals have given them more reason to visit downtown and patronize local businesses. We have held tours that attract locals and visitors from the Greater Boston area and beyond!
JD: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
BW: After learning a lot from this past year and also significant surveying and data analysis, we are excited to host another festival this summer. We will continue to retain the energy of this past year’s festival with more large scale Murals and are inviting county-wide arts and cultural organizations to partner with us in the fest’s programming. We are also implementing far more art this year as well, as we are inviting artists to create mixed media street art as well as restoring many of Lynn’s “Ghost Signs”--faded painted advertisements on brick buildings from the ‘30’s, ‘40’s, and ‘50’s.
If you live in the Boston area or are planning a trip, be sure to make a stop in Lynn to check out the beautiful new works on offer! And, if you are a fan of street art like myself and want to see some artists in action, mark your calendars for August 6th - 19th! You won't be disappointed.