Foundation looks beyond Boston, to Lynn’s art walls

As the Barr Foundation looks to expand its scope beyond Boston’s borders, an unusual project with the potential to transform downtown Lynn has caught the nonprofit’s attention.

The foundation decided to give $200,000 to the effort, known as Beyond Walls. Its showcase piece took shape last month: 15 murals, some higher than 60 feet, each one reflecting a different ethnic group. Vintage neon signs are being installed throughout the area. Beyond Walls founder Al Wilson says the foundation’s money will be used to light up three dark underpasses, to encourage more pedestrian traffic.

Wilson got the idea after seeing the rejuvenation of a neighborhood in Miami into the Wynwood Art District and London’s King’s Cross area. He grew up in Walpole, but played plenty of soccer in Lynn and had a longstanding appreciation for the city and its many cultures. So he returned last year with a project that has galvanized the city’s business community and its residents.

Beyond Walls used the crowdfunding site Patronicity to raise more than $80,000 from nearly 1,400 donors. That triggered a $50,000 matching grant from MassDevelopment. With the Barr gift, Wilson estimates, the donations — including in-kind services, hardware, and equipment — have exceeded $1 million. Among the most unusual gifts: a 1940s-era jet engine from General Electric that will serve as a focal point for an art installation.

San San Wong, director of arts for the Barr Foundation, says she understood the possibilities and embraced the effort as part of a broader goal for the organization to become more of a regional presence.

“We saw a lot of potential in these six-story buildings that were blank walls,” Wong says. “It’s an incredible story of generating a feeling of ownership within the community.”

JON CHESTO

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