LYNN — Beyond Walls has received a $200,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to support the continued installation of public art and the development of community events and plan for future programs.
“The Barr Foundation funding will allow us to showcase downtown Lynn as a haven for art and artists, a point of pride for the city, a vibrant location for businesses, a lively destination for visitors and a welcoming, multicultural community for a new generation of residents.” said Alfred Wilson, executive director and founder of Beyond Walls. “We are tremendously grateful to the Barr Foundation for their belief in the power of art to enhance our city in ways that are real, measurable and enduring.”
The Barr Foundation, a private, Boston-based foundation with core programs in Arts & Creativity, Climate, and Education, awarded the ambitious nonprofit reinventing the downtown to advance their efforts to install lighting and vintage neon art pieces.
In late July, Beyond Walls hosted a 10-day mural festival, where 20 international and local artists changed the faces of 15 buildings across the downtown. The final event, “Rock the Block” party hosted on Mount Vernon Street, brought in more than 2,500 visitors to celebrate a community effort.
The Barr grant will assist with the organization’s final project: to install permanent underpass lighting in Central Square, Washington, and Market Street, as well as vintage neon artwork set to be placed throughout the downtown. In addition to newly-illuminated spaces, a large-scale sculpture featuring a jet engine produced by GE in 1942, and reimagined by high school students from Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, will be placed in Lynn’s downtown Cultural District to pay homage to the city’s industrial roots.
Beyond Walls was inspired by the Wynwood area of Miami, The Kings Cross Project in London and Mural Arts Philadelphia, which used public art to help attract attention and investment and reinforce a sense of place.
“I believe aspects of each of these models can be replicated in Lynn, and I’m not alone,” Wilson said.
Wilson drafted a four-component plan that included the mural festival, the installation of retro neon signs and colorful lights beneath dark underpasses, and the creation of a sculpture to pay homage to Lynn’s rich industrial history as the home of America’s jet engine technology.
His plan was presented to city officials and the Lynn Business Partnership, an association of CEOs in the city.
Charles Gaeta, the executive director of Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development, quickly jumped on board to have a hand in the project. Partnering with Neighborhood Development Associates, a nonprofit organization, allowed Beyond Walls to become eligible for grant programs.
As the project got bigger, so did Beyond Walls.
The executive board established footing, with volunteers such as Pedro Soto and Amanda Hill taking the role as associate directors, and Audrey Stevens, Chris Devine, and Carla Scheri having leading roles as well.
A Beyond Walls Committee was also formed to focus on crowdfunding and raised more than $80,000 from about 1,400 donors, and $50,000 from MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program.
“The city of Lynn offers an exciting example of how arts and creativity can catalyze and advance revitalization efforts, and Beyond Walls has already become an important part of that,” said San San Wong, director of Arts and Creativity for the Barr Foundation. “We hope the Foundation’s support will help Beyond Walls 2017 achieve larger scale and visibility, while also prompting critical discussions and innovative ideas to sustain momentum and enrich future development efforts.”
With hopes to increase security through visibility with lighting, and increasing foot traffic throughout the downtown, Wilson envisions the project sparking economic vitality in Lynn.
Kato Mele, owner of the White Rose Coffeehouse, credits Beyond Walls with driving patrons to her cafe, increasing almost three times during the mural festival.
“Before Beyond Walls there was no foot traffic and business was slow,” she said. “Our average weekly revenue is $4,500. During the 10-day festival we reached almost $12,000 in revenue. And in the 10 days after the festival we brought in $6,000.”
Mele said she has even had to hire a new cook and waitstaff and has been toying with the idea of opening the 56 Central Square location on Sundays, a day she was normally closed.
After meeting a variety of people over the summer drawn to the downtown for the sake of art, she has seen interest from those outside the city’s edge.
“A couple who had been renting in Everett came in after taking a tour of the murals and asked if Beyond Walls represented what was happening in Lynn. From here they went straight to a real estate agent and bought the condo upstairs.”
Another couple who dined at White Rose Coffeehouse told Mele that before Beyond Walls, they hadn’t been in Lynn in 10 years, she said.
“Beyond Walls is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do,” Mele said.