Erick and Tania Buck-Ruffen of Lynn, work at their Munroe Street garden plot as mural artist FONKi works on his creation for the Beyond Walls Mural Festival in downtown Lynn. | Photo: Jim Wilson
By MEAGHAN CASEY
What brought Australian artist Georgia Hill to downtown Lynn last month? A mural, to put it simply.
But if you ask her or Beyond Walls founder Al Wilson, it’s much bigger than that. Wilson lured artists from across the globe to lend their talents to a creative movement that has the city buzzing with energy, enterprise, arts and culture and will for years to come.
Under Wilson’s vision, Beyond Walls launched earlier this year as a grassroots effort to create a sense of place and safety in Lynn’s Central Square, through a multifaceted installation of public art and lighting.
On July 22, 15 large-scale murals, commissioned and painted on buildings by international and local artists, were unveiled during a block party — the culmination of a 10-day mural festival. More than 2,500 persons joined the fun at the block party, which included live music, food, drink and a festive vibe.
“I think these mural projects really make people feel proud of their own streets,” said Hill. “These walls and buildings are home to the stories and histories that people make together, and hopefully the artworks celebrate this and a city that people truly care about.”
For Hill, who specializes in type-based art that combines bold, black-and-white textures and lettering within experimental compositions, this was her tenth mural project since 2014, but her first in the United States.
“In my short time painting murals, I’ve been amazed at how these artworks can engage the public and send bigger messages, and really make people connect in ways they might not have before — from changing the way they might walk to work to becoming more passionate about bigger themes around them,” said Hill. “I’m always really excited to push my work that little bit further every time I paint.
Lately I’ve been focusing on connecting architecture and odd structures, nature and our memories.”
Other international muralists came from Puerto Rico, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. More locally, Boston-based street artist Cedric “Vise” Douglas participated, painting “The Black Madonna” on the exterior wall of 114-120 Munroe St.
New Yorker Cey Adams, founding creative director of Def Jam Records, brought a little love to 65 Munroe St. with a mural inspired by Donna Summer’s song, “I Feel Love.”
Cambridge-based artist Caleb Neelon, immersed in the global graffiti scene under the name SONIK by the mid-’90s, colorfully painted a wall on Munroe Street, which he describes as a “big, loving, family quilt. Neelon, who co-authored “The History of American Graffiti,” has painted murals and artworks that can be seen in city streets and exhibitions throughout the world. “What’s fun is the community interaction,” he said. “Being in public, there’s a performance aspect.”
Lynn was already host to a massive mural on the exterior of the LynnArts building at 25 Exchange St., designed and painted by artists David Fichter, Yetti Frenkel and Joshua Winer. Yet, the idea for this project occurred to Wilson, a Marblehead resident, years ago when he was in Miami and visited Wynwood Walls. Conceived by the late Tony Goldman, a renowned community revitalizer and placemaker, the site has become a major art statement transforming the warehouse district of Wynwood. Since its inception, the Wynwood Walls program has seen more than 50 artists from 16 countries create art on more than 80,000 square feet of walls.
“In the five years it took for the pop-up installation to morph into the curated space it is now, a ton of other stuff happened,” said Wilson, talking about Wynwood. “The art expanded from two blocks to eight and a neighborhood formed where there really wasn’t one.”
Wilson, who grew up in Walpole, was familiar with the North Shore from his childhood soccer days and saw an opportunity.
“There I was in Miami thinking about Lynn,” he said.
Wilson also found inspiration during a trip to London, where he saw firsthand the urban artwork — one of the largest illustrations of its kind — that appears at the gateway to King’s Cross.
“The street art there was a catalyst for cafes opening and more housing,” he said. “That’s what we need in Lynn. A number of cultural organizations like RAW and LynnArts have been doing work for years, and new businesses and coffee shops have been opening up — which are all signs of people trying to do cool things in Lynn — but there’s still a feeling that the district shuts down once it gets dark.”
That’s where the lighting comes in. By adding lighting under the elevated MBTA tracks and illuminating sidewalks with vintage neon art pieces, businesses will be encouraged to stay open later and residents and visitors will be encouraged to walk from place to place.
Beyond Walls has also seen the installation of 12 vintage neon art pieces. The colorful, dynamic LED underpass lighting from Payette and LAM Partners is expected to be completed in September. The lighting will connect Central Square and Washington Street, creating a safe and inviting passageway through the heart of Central Square. The project will also include laser mapping of the bridge.
“There’s really nothing like it on the East Coast,” said Wilson. “We’re really fortunate Payette and LAM stepped in, along with Philips Color Kinetics, donating some of their services and materials. That brought the price down about 60 percent. They came in and saw this former industrial city with a raised rail going through the heart of it, and recognized it could be something great.”
The final piece will be a sculpture donated by GE Aviation paying homage to Lynn’s rich industrial history as the home of America’s jet engine technology. That will be installed next spring. Wilson also hopes to expand the mural project from 15 walls to 25.
“I’m excited about the possibilities,” said Drew Russo, executive director at the Lynn Museum/LynnArts. “People are looking to rediscover and take pride in this city and I think this is the great creative spark we need. It helps to shine a light on what we’ve all been doing to build a cultural community and hopefully will provide more opportunity for the live-work-play experience in downtown.”
The project has been funded entirely through donations and matching funds from MassDevelopment. Neighborhood Development Associates, a nonprofit housing corporation and subsidiary of the Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development, provided the group with a 5013c fiscal sponsorship. In addition to Wilson, dozens of residents and individuals from local businesses came together to form a leadership committee to help bring this project to fruition.
“If we can fund ourselves, we can become an entity to do more Lynn-based activities,” said Wilson. “I’d also love for us to go on the road to another gateway city next year.”