LYNN — There’s a wonderful new mural on the side of Salvy the Florist’s shop on Western Avenue. Colorful and bright, it features a closeup of Michelle La Poetica (Michelle Richardson), the Lynn resident/poet/community builder who spearheads the weekly Dencity spoken word open mic at Walnut Street Café.
The large-scale mural was created by Raw Art Works’ WAM X (Womxn Art Muralists) team as part of its “Stand Up, Reach Out” public art campaign. Laura Smith, the RAW art therapist who leads the group, said the campaign offers team members a chance to identify real issues in the community and use art to celebrate the Womxn of Lynn who are standing up and reaching out to support healing and greater social change.
Smith said the X in WAM X and womxn replaces the suffix “men,” acknowledging female independence and strength, while also including womxn of color and trans-womxn. “The teen artists proposed that we contribute toward social change with the words we use, as well as the actions we take.”
The WAM X team is Lynn high schoolers Roselle Carrillo, Camille San Gabriel, Sofia Fontan, Angie Gauthier, Marissa Devine and Tracy DeLeon. The young women chose La Poetica for their first public art piece because, said Carrillo, “she is always looking for a way to reach out to community. Everyone is welcome at the Walnut Street Cafe.”
DeLeon, Fontan, Gauthier and Carrillo, chatting at RAW headquarters in Central Square about the mural, said the group focused on issues that are important to them, including immigration, mental health, harassment, bullying, violence and gentrification. Healing and real change through public art are the cornerstones of the Stand Up, Reach Out project, said Smith.
Gauthier, a St. Mary’s High student who has been participating in RAW programs for five years, said the mural was a true group effort, from idea to completion. Smith agreed: “It’s a collaborative, democratic process. Everybody has a voice. Everybody has a chance to be heard. It’s fulfilling for all of us.”
The team members all were selected after a “rigorous” interview process that also focused on artistic talent, the ability to work with others and a vision for the public art campaign, said Smith. It’s one of RAW’s employment programs, meaning the participants get paid.
This is not part of the Beyond Walls murals project, but Smith said both groups share a desire to better the community through public art.
What did Michelle La Poetica think of “her” mural? Smith smiled, then grabbed her phone. “She sent me a text. Here, look. She is so excited. She said she was driving by it, and her best friend was sitting in the back seat. Her friend yelled out ‘Girl, you’re on the wall.’ Her daughter was in the car with her and said ‘Mommy, that’s you up there.’ She was pretty happy and humbled.”