BEVERLY— The Cabot theater has been this city’s downtown cultural center since it opened in 1920. In the olden days, the movie palace hosted silent films and vaudeville shows. More recently, the architectural wonder was the home of Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company, an internationally renowned magic show that thrilled audiences for some 37 years.
The Cabot has enjoyed a renaissance since Casey Soward was hired as executive director in October 2015. It screens classic movies, buzzed-about indie films and books a steady stream of popular music and comedy acts. It has undergone major renovations and updating, including a total re-do of the balcony and installation of a new sound system.
Now, Soward, anticipating the theater’s 100th anniversary next year, is looking to revitalize the outside of the building. Inspired by the Beyond Walls mural project in Lynn, the former Swampscott resident envisions the beautiful brick exterior as a blank canvas for artists.
And he’s enlisting the Beyond Walls team to help. Yes, Beyond Walls, the murals expert, is going beyond Lynn.
The two organizations started discussing the project way back in the fall of 2017, said Soward and Pedro Soto, associate director of Beyond Walls, during a public Mural Project Launch Party at the theater Thursday night. Thanks to a $16,500 grant awarded by Essex County Community Foundation, the plan is to install murals that best reflect Beverly and its people.
“We’re pretty jazzed up about this,” said Soward.
“We started talking two years ago, and we have talked many times since then,” said Soto. “(The Cabot’s mural project) happened when it was supposed to happen.”
An “artist call” has been issued by Beyond Walls, seeking muralists to apply for the project. Selection of artists will be made by May and the painting of the murals will take place in late July.
A $15,000 crowdfunding campaign has begun to pay for the murals. More than half of the amount has been raised. Tax-deductible donations can be made at www.patronicity.com/CabotMurals. The drive ends April 21.
“The Cabot is really the start of Beverly’s Arts District, but you’d never know it,” said Soward. “Montserrat College of Art is here, but its offices are in a bank building. There are many artists downtown, but they’re inside and not visible as you drive through town.”
“There is not a lot of public art in downtown Beverly, and hopefully the murals will help inspire other artists (to create similar projects outdoors) and connect the community through art,” said Soto, a Lynn native and resident and former city planner in Peabody. He acknowledges that it took a lot of planning and hard work by staff and many volunteers to make Lynn’s Beyond Walls project a success.
Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets and the Arts District, said that when Essex County Community Foundation awards a collaborative grant, it smartly insists that communities work together so all, rather than one, benefit. She agrees with Soward’s assessment that visitors would not realize they are in the city’s arts and culture district, due to a lack of green space and outside art. She is encouraged that Kurt Steinberg, the new Montserrat president, wants students to get out in the community and share their creativity.
Al Wilson, Beyond Walls’ founder and executive director, is enthusiastic about working with the Cabot on the project. “This will serve as a catalyst, and other successes will follow. It takes a lot of collaborating to succeed, but what’s good for Beverly is also good for Lynn and Salem. We all benefit by working together,” Wilson said at the launch party.
John Andrews, Chief Creative Officer of Creative Collective in Salem, agrees. He and other forward-thinkers have helped grow and bring respect to the Witch City’s arts community. The murals project in Salem’s Point District is one major success.
“Inter-city collaborations are the smart way to go. It’s important to have a large audience, and there are different kinds of artists in every community, so the key is to bring all creative businesses together and work together toward common goals,” Andrews said. Having Beyond Walls as a partner is astute, he added.
“What’s happening in Lynn’s Downtown Cultural Arts District is amazing,” said Soward. “There are the murals, a vibrant arts scene … The guys who book the acts for the Auditorium and I talk often and compare notes. When I go to a show in Lynn, I also go to a restaurant. That is happening in Beverly. People go to our shows and eat out beforehand.”