Krause: Getting behind ‘Beyond Walls’

(Spenser Hasak)

Remember last summer? Remember driving down the streets in the downtown area of Lynn and seeing the groups of people who came to view the murals on the walls?

Remember the positive vibes from that? There was none of the usual grousing you hear regarding just about everything these days — good or bad. There was just such a good feeling that something positive and uplifting like that could spring up in the city.

If you don’t, I do. I work down here. I saw it every day. Saw the murals being painted, saw all the workers involved and it just seemed like such a harmonious endeavor.

Beyond Walls is the group that made all this possible. And the group wants to do more this summer, said founder and executive director Al Wilson. And when it does, be assured — in case you’re concerned — that none of the money that has made this possible has been taxpayer-funded.

I will admit, up front, that I’ve lived in Lynn for my entire life — nearly 65 years — and have reached the point of paying a lot more attention to where my taxes go, and what they fund, than I might have 30 years ago. And if you came to me right now and told me that Beyond Walls was partially funded through public money, it wouldn’t bother me a bit. How can you be upset over anything that puts the city in such a good light, and that goes literally as well as figuratively.

Beyond Walls has been a godsend to Lynn on any one of a number of levels. Obviously, it made the downtown area a real talking point last summer. Film crews from Boston’s television stations came here and went back with glowing reports. There was no talk of crime, or drugs, or any of the other subjects people bring up when they mention Lynn. The focus was on the art and how festive the crowds were as they strolled around looking at it.

That was all part of Wilson’s plan.

“We recognized the challenges economically the city faces, but we didn’t want to be a burden on that,” he said. “We did an awful lot of work and I think we’ve been creative in responding to those challenges.”

Like the project itself, the word “creative” works on many levels too. There were the artists brought in to paint the mural. Then there was the equipment needed to implement the plans. Wilson and his committee sought donations from hardware stores and other businesses for the equipment needed to put those concepts into motion. That alone cost $300,000 — $216,000 of which was donated by various hardware stores. The rest came from grants Beyond Walls got from various foundations, most notably the Barr Foundation in Boston, a group that specializes in arts and creativity, the environment and education.

Painters’ unions donated labor for the ladders and other rigging needed for the artists to do their work. Wilson met with “about 14 or 15” architecture firms before finding one that would agree to do pro bono work for various aspects of the project. Finally, he found Philips Color Kinetics of Burlington to help design the highly-ambitious lighting project under the three downtown railroad bridges.

“A lot of what we tried to do revolved around safety,” Wilson said. “It was to get people in the downtown area. The more people, the safer the area is.

“Doing the lighting is important,” Wilson said. “Right now, what you have are poorly-lit areas of the city, and that increases crime and car-on-pedestrian accidents. Having those areas better lit will, quite literally, change lives.”

Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers donated the labor to do the wiring.

Wilson and his committee worked extremely hard to get this off the ground and to make it happen. He hopes to light the underpasses next month and he has some other projects in the works too, such as a refurbished 1942 jet engine donated by General Electric and restored by students at Lynn Tech to be put on display later this year at Lynn City Hall.

Wilson envisions a positive ripple effect. The beautification of the buildings means more people who want to see them. More people means less crime in those heavily traveled areas. Better lighting translates into safety. More safety and less crime opens up the possibility for more commerce. And up and up it goes.

None of this is coming at the expense of our schools, or public safety, or the upkeep of our streets and other public property.

Me? I’m just thankful that there are people in and around this city who care enough about it to make such an incredible effort to help raise it up.

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