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Rain shrinks crowd, but doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for Beyond Walls mural festival

The Big Nazo parade walks through the train station as part of the Beyond Walls block party. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Jessica Gerardo stood in the pouring rain Saturday in Central Square, after having viewed the murals that were drawn as part of the “Beyond Walls” project and tied the whole thing together in two sentences.

“These murals,” said Gerardo, who was born and still lives in Lynn, “were drawn from people who come from a lot of different countries. That’s important because there are people who live in Lynn who come from a lot of different countries too.”

“It kind of brings the whole thing together,” Gerardo said.

Rain may have put a definite damper on the number of people who came out to the “Rock the Block” party Saturday that “Beyond Walls” threw to celebrate the culmination of its second project in two years. But it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the people who braved the elements to partake in it.

“I love it,” said Colt Mallett, also of Lynn, who is a probation officer at the Lynn courthouse. “It’s great to walk around and see all of this. I remember the day, when I was younger, when you didn’t ever come down here. But now, this is incredible.”

This year’s project was almost twice as ambitious as in 2017. Twenty-seven new murals went up, most of them on the sides of buildings in Lynn’s cultural district. To go along with the 15 from last year, that makes 42. With a series of retro-neon signs depicting businesses and products from the 1950s and ’60s, along with lighting the underpinnings of the railroad bridges along the commuter rail line with colored bulbs, the project has given the city a festive, artistic flair while, project founder and director Al Wilson said, helping open some commercial doors and solve some very real problems.

“For example,” Wilson said, “the lighting helps alleviate a situation. Market Street is badly lit, and a lot of people have been hit by cars. The lights make the area brighter.”

As for the murals themselves, Wilson said, “it brings more foot traffic downtown, which makes it a safer place. Also, we’ve been told by some of the restaurant owners that their clientele has increased because of the people coming down to see these paintings.”

Wilson said he was moved by the story of an elderly couple who started coming downtown again because of the murals.

“They hadn’t come downtown in 25 years,” Wilson said. “Last year, they ventured out to see the murals and they loved it. They made several trips downtown to look at them.

“Having people like these share their stories was inspirational.”

Wilson said he also saw a little girl looking at a mural of a woman with her hair in rollers.

“I asked her what she saw in that mural, and she said, ‘I see my mom.’

“Hearing all that helped us decide to do it all over again this year,” Wilson said.

“I see this as a positive for downtown Lynn,” said Lynn Police Lt. Christopher Reddy. “I do a fair amount of walking down here — we all do — and this is such a positive improvement for the downtown.

“All of the officers like it very much.”

“The murals are just gorgeous,” said Gerardo. “They bring Lynn together, and make it seem like a real community.”

Wilson hopes the momentum from these two events will help propel Lynn to solve some other issues that need to be addressed.

“The city needs new schools, there’s crime, the streets need to be paved,” he said. “We’re not going to solve those problems. But we can push the city in a positive direction.”

Mayor Thomas M. McGee donned a poncho that he brought for $2 in the corridor that leads to the commuter rail station on Munroe Street as he walked around and checked out the murals.

“Downtown Lynn is the canvas for our future,” McGee told the crowd. “A little bit of rain can’t stop us from taking part. This project is helping us really keep Lynn in our hearts.”

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