One vision, more than 2,500 individual crowdfunding patrons, 200-plus local volunteers, and 35 murals later, Beyond Walls has changed the landscape and shifted perceptions of downtown Lynn – a post-industrial city now known as a destination for public artwork. Catalyzed through a MassDevelopment-funded planning study, and nurtured by Lynn Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) Fellow Joe Mulligan, Beyond Walls is a growing and creative placemaking nonprofit that aims to activate spaces and strengthen communities.
Following Lynn’s designation as a TDI District, in 2016 MassDevelopment contracted with Interface Studio, a Philadelphia-based planning and design firm, to work with community partners and the public to develop a Downtown Action Strategy assessing opportunities for design improvements to public spaces and streetscapes in downtown Lynn. During community meetings, (1) public art, (2) street lighting, and (3) sidewalk activation were identified as desired interventions to improve neighborhood perception, enhance public safety, and strengthen neighborhood pride. Motivated by this feedback, a group of volunteers led by Al Wilson launched Beyond Walls, a grassroots effort to implement large-scale public art installations in downtown Lynn. Its first project, a 10-day international mural festival held in July 2017, was attended by more than 5,000 residents and visitors, spending more than $108,000 mostly in local restaurants and bars. Beyond Walls has since hosted a second annual mural festival in 2018, created a public exhibition of vintage neon art pieces and a large-scale dynamic LED lighting project to activate an underpass in downtown Lynn, and is preparing for a large-scale public space activation project along the waterfront in 2019.
In addition to TDI Fellow Joe Mulligan’s help with community engagement, installation coordination, and more, the mural festivals and LED lighting project were made possible by Commonwealth Places, a collaborative initiative from MassDevelopment and Patronicity that leverages public support for placemaking projects through crowdfunding and a matching grant from MassDevelopment. Beyond Walls is a strong example of TDI in-action and of how the breadth of MassDevelopment’s programs assist community-led innovation at every stage: from laying the groundwork to inspire an idea, to helping the organizers implement it.