If the walls had ears ... Oh, they do — as part of Al Wilson’s Beyond Walls. (Spenser R. Hasak)
Lifestyle, Opinion

Krause: Arts and culture change the narrative of Lynn

Last week, it was Beyond Walls Street Arts Festival and the "Rock the Block" party that wrapped up seven days of activity that centered around the newest murals sponsored by the initiative.

Now, we segue into another event that is becoming an annual happening: Festival La Voz, which will be held Sunday, Aug. 25 at Fraser Field.

The common denominator between the two seemingly unrelated events is this: They both celebrate the city's burgeoning culture, and both strive for inclusiveness within its diverse elements.

Downtown Lynn was buzzing with activity last week. Artists could be seen high up on hydraulic lifts, putting the finishing touches on their murals. And the party on Mt. Vernon Street was held in perfect summer weather (as opposed to last year's rain), and attendance was robust and enthusiastic.

Beyond Walls has every right to celebrate its accomplishments and to toot its own horn about its contributions to Lynn's cultural landscape. However, that zeal has been seen by some as an attempt to take sole credit for it, especially put up against the apparently continuing perception of Lynn as a veritable O.K. Corral, where the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday still roam the streets 24/7.
Lynn is an old industrial city that — for years — has been stuck between its heyday and where it will eventually find its new destiny. It's getting there, but it has a way to go. Nobody is suggesting Lynn is Shangri La, but we hope the arts can help give it a kinder, gentler reputation. 

And Beyond Walls does not take sole credit for the arts renaissance in Lynn. Community Engagement Coordinator Josie Santos said last week that Lynn has always had that element.

"Look at City Hall," she said. "Look at the library. Those buildings are beautiful. Just observe the architecture. It is amazing."

Those within Beyond Walls are quick to give credit to the diverse arts elements, from the Lynn Museum, to LynnArts, to Raw Art Works (RAW) to City Hall. Founder and executive director Al Wilson is well aware of what came before his initiative began in Lynn three years ago, and certainly does not want to be seen as thumping his own chest to the exclusion of other groups.

In fact, said Charlotte Maher, project manager, the aforementioned groups have bent over backwards to help Beyond Walls.

"I think it's fascinating how many of these community groups were anxious to help us," she said. "We've had the support of all the arts organizations, the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA … these are groups ingrained in the city."

One thing Santos feels might seem to give Beyond Walls more visibility is, well, that it is more visible. 

"That is to say the art is more visible," she said. "It's outside, and it fills up the walls on the buildings. Other art in the city is inside a building."

But, she said, never make the mistake of calling any of these groups more significant than another.

"The city has this potential for arts," she said. "You can see it through RAW, the way some kids just come out transformed."

Raw Art Works, founded 31 years ago by Mary Flannery, was designed as an art therapy program for incarcerated youth. Its intent was to put paint brushes in the hands of youth to help them express their feelings. 

Of course, as long as there has been art, there have been people who do not appreciate it. Back in the late 1980s into the '90s, then-Community Development director Jansi Chandler authorized the painting of murals over vacant storefronts "because we wanted to do something different with them, to make them look nice as opposed to what they were. Our hope was that people would see them and perhaps start businesses in them."

She was accused of covering over the reality of what was underneath — as if the blight created a more palatable view.

"But I went by there recently and all of the spaces are occupied," she said. "We must have done a good job."

She said what the CD department did in the 1990s is essentially the same as what Wilson and Beyond Walls is doing now.

"I think we were after the same things," she said, "but (Beyond Walls is) on a much grander scale."

The idea of an arts and cultural district in Lynn was Chandler's vision, and its institution went a long way toward establishing organizations such as LynnArts — whose first executive director was former State Rep. Steven M. Walsh — the Community Minority Cultural Center, the museum or, for that matter, Beyond Walls, she said.

Next up is the Festival La Voz, which is sponsored by the La Voz publication of Essex Media Group and includes resource tables, live entertainment provided by internationally renowned artists and local talent, a baseball clinic for kids hosted by the Roberto Clemente Foundation, a display of four Red Sox World Series trophies, food and beer, and more. 

Fraser Field has a capacity of 3,500, which will better accommodate the number of people who are expected to attend.

"During our third year hosting this event, the goal continues to be the same: To celebrate community, support diversity and inclusion through the commemoration of Latino culture," said Carolina Trujillo, EMG's community relations director and La Voz director. Like Beyond Walls, the festival aims to make it easier, and more fun, for different elements of the city to mingle, to socialize, and know more about each other. And it is one more component of a movement to remake the City of Lynn.


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