PHOTO CREDIT: BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF
By Andy RosenUpdated July 29, 2020, 3:36 p.m.
LYNN — In a downtown punctuated by giant murals from artists around the world, it’s easy to overlook the sleek, stainless steel hand-washing stations that have been popping up near social service agencies, shelters, and outdoor restaurant spaces.
But to Beyond Walls, the Lynn nonprofit behind both the colorful outdoor paintings and the more functional sanitary installations, both are examples of design with a purpose: bringing people back into downtowns whose economies are in desperate need of business.
Since 2016, Beyond Walls has made a name for itself helping communities to organize and commission public art projects by well-known creators — first in Lynn and recently in Cambridge, Beverly, and Peabody. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made such efforts difficult. So Beyond Walls is looking for a new niche that can help outdoor restaurants, construction companies, and community organizations keep their patrons’ and employees’ hands clean.
“As much as we believe in the power of art, we wanted to lean in and put our muscle behind trying to figure out solutions in whatever way we could to the health crisis and what was going to have to be a focus on economic development,” said Al Wilson, chief executive of Beyond Walls.
In Lynn alone, Beyond Walls has been involved in about 60 art projects, including public lighting projects, neon signs, and murals including modernized portraits of historic figures, textured patterns, and cultural representations created by artists from the Boston area and around the world.
But there are impediments to continuing that work during the pandemic. Grants and philanthropic donations are harder to come by — Wilson notes that they are sorely needed for other purposes — and the community conversations that go into planning the huge installations can’t be easily held in person.
So Beyond Walls has shifted much of its attention to developing its “WaSH” stations, along with a a companion product called “FoLD,” a folded stainless steel alternative to the concrete Jersey barriers that protect newly created outdoor dining spaces along urban streets. Get it? Wash and fold.