LYNN — Throughout the month of July, if you spent anytime in downtown Lynn, you probably came across Al Wilson, over-caffeinated and sleep-deprived, surrounded by talented artists and dedicated volunteers, changing the face of the downtown — one mural at a time.
Wilson, CEO and founder of Beyond Walls, saw a vision for Lynn that included vibrant murals, and other artistic additions to make the city a destination for people to eat, drink, shop, and spend money.
Then the 40-year-old Walpole native turned it into a reality, making him Person of the Year.
Wilson’s Beyond Walls was responsible for the addition of 15 murals throughout the arts and cultural district downtown, numerous neon art installations, and colorful underpass lighting in Central Square.
“The work we accomplished was made possible through the support of Lynn and the people who care about the city that allowed us to get a 28-member committee, about 40 volunteers, the leadership of Pedro Soto and Amanda Hill, and the 1,400 individuals who made a financial contribution to the placemaking project,” said Wilson.
Wilson said they garnered fantastic federal, state and local support from elected officials and state and local agencies. U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, then-state Sen. Thomas M. McGee, state representatives Brendan Crighton and Dan Cahill, then-Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, all city councilors, leadership of MASSDevelopment, EDIC, the office of Community Development, the Barr and Highland Street Foundations, Union 35 and IBEW 103, the Lynn Police and Fire Department, and many others all supported the project.
Wilson said the year wasn’t about Beyond Walls, nor was the festival just about art.
“Art was just the tool to showcase the greatness of the community and the city.”
The work of the Beyond Walls team is not yet complete. Nine neon art pieces are scheduled to be installed in January. Lynn Vocational Technical Institution students are also reconstructing a GE jet engine to be placed in the arts and cultural district.
Wilson’s favorite memory of the mural festival was a moment he remembers leading a tour and stopping in front of Evaristo Angurria’s mural on Washington Street of a Latino woman with curlers in her hair.
“We had a mural tour and a group of young children came with their mothers and suddenly joined along,” he said. “I asked the kids what they liked about the artwork and this little girl said she liked the piece because the woman looked just like her mom.
“I love that much of the community was able to see either themselves reflected in the art or they had an experience in front of the art that was very special to them,” he said.
In late 2017, Beyond Walls announced something planned for 2018, although the logistics are still being finalized, he said.