What is Beyond Walls?
We are a nonprofit placemaking agency that uses a creative lens and epic art to address community needs.
Are you those mural People?
YES! But we do so much more than murals! We are a diverse group that believes cities best thrive when they are full of art and have engaged stakeholders and active spaces.
Why do we do this?
We believe all communities deserve safe, vibrant, art filled, well lit, active spaces that promote economic and lifestyle vitality.
What is your Mission?
Our mission is to activate public space to strengthen communities. We do this work by partnering with local residents, business owners, and community organizations to infuse epic art and creative experiences into the public realm. Over the last 2 years, Beyond Walls has looked to address community feedback calling for more art and lighting in Downtown Lynn. To this end, BWI hosted two Mural Festivals featuring acclaimed local, regional, national and international artists, installed permanent dynamic LED Lighting to underpasses (Central Square, Washington Street and Market Street) that cut through the heart of the City, added 11 pieces of light-emitting vintage neon artworks and conserved a 1942 jet engine (to be installed at Lynn City Hall) as a testament to Lynn’s industrial roots.
Where is our office located?
We just moved from 181 Union Street in Lynn to 18 Mount Vernon Street in Lynn in order to be in the heart of the cultural district. Our work began as a volunteer, grassroots movement in community meetings and coffee shops. We eventually moved from coffee shops to a donated office and warehouse space to now being in a converted machine shop in the heart of the cultural district at 18 Mt. Vernon St… Come visit!
Where did the name “Beyond Walls” come from?
We voted on it! Our original, 28 person volunteer committee proposed and voted on a name; Beyond Walls came out on top. It’s got a ring to it, right?! And now getting a bit deeper… As our work focuses on making sure all parties have access to the arts, we’ve installed street art on prominent, public-facing walls in downtown Lynn. But, our work has taken us far “beyond walls” in addressing community driven concerns and opportunities in our lighting and other work and installations. We seek to break down cultural walls and barriers through engaging artists who represent the cultural identities of our diverse city of Lynn, fostering open to the public events, and holding culturally relevant programming and project dedication ceremonies that celebrate our community.
What is your artist selection process?
Each year we post a public call to artists on our social media channels and various artists forums. Our committee and team then review submissions, looking for complete applications, the body of the artists’ work, and their cultural background. It is imperative that we celebrate and provide platforms for artists who are often times underrepresented, whether it be based on their cultural background or gender. For our Street Art Festivals, we strive to have our artist rosters and the content of their work reflect the diverse community we serve.
Who started Beyond Walls? Why?
Beyond Walls was founded by Al Wilson, who, while working in the tech industry in sales and marketing, had seen successful art and lighting installations throughout the US. Al’s English roots and passion for soccer saw him playing the sport throughout his entire life and oftentimes bringing him to play the competitive teams in Lynn. The soccer scene drew him back to the city and the incredible community of Lynn welcomed him in… leading him to wanting to get more involved. He went on to attend a series of placemaking and public art panels in Boston as well as a number of community meetings in Lynn, meeting with hundreds of residents, business owners, activists, and creatives. All of these meetings and shared needs helped hatch the crazy idea of a non-profit placemaking agency focused on addressing long standing needs in Lynn. A particular series of meetings to note happened in 2016, when MassDevelopment and Interface Studios, a Philadelphia based planning and design firm, began working with community partners to develop a downtown action plan. The goals of the engagement were to work with local stakeholders to assess the need for place-specific design improvements for public spaces, streetscapes and potential development sites through the downtown.
The final report recommended, among other things, investing in pedestrian focused lighting and improved walkability throughout the Downtown Cultural District. From this feedback a clear focus emerged: downtown businesses and residents felt that ‘walkability’ of downtown Lynn needed to be improved and that to improve the walkability, a focus should be made to improve lighting and the installation of more art. Led by Al, a group of attendees from these meetings formed as a committee to look for ways to address these desires. As the group became more active, Pedro Soto became interested in the work of the group and joined as a committee member and later as Associate Director in September 2017. Julia Midland joined Beyond Walls at first a volunteer and later as Program Manager in December 2017.
Why are you doing this & not fixing the roads or building subsidized housing?
Mission alignment is the short answer. We are a non-profit focused on activating public space to strengthen communities. We take a creative lens in the design, planning and management of space and have found a means of infusing epic art into our work. Prior to receiving our non-profit status, Beyond Walls had a long standing fiscal sponsor in Neighborhood Development Associates, the non-profit arm of The Lynn Housing Authority. NDA has developed low income and subsidized housing in Lynn since 1979. They continue to be the driver for subsidized housing here in Lynn with Beyond Walls now standing as our own non-profit.
Are you guys even from Lynn?
Yes and no. Where we grew up is not as important as our commitment to Lynn and using our mission to support communities. Pedro Soto grew up and lives in Lynn, has been with Beyond Walls since the early days and as former City planner in Peabody, Adjunct Fellow with MASSDevelopment and an expert in urban planning, is the project lead and Associate Director of Beyond Walls.
What about the rest of you crazy characters?
Al grew up in Walpole MA and became familiar with Lynn through playing soccer against many of the powerhouse players that came out of Lynn. When he moved to the north shore he began playing soccer in Lynn and was invited to attend events and community meetings where he became convinced some of the initiatives he had seen in other cities could be used to address what the community had identified as needs. He has used his business and operations acumen to bring funders, service providers and government agencies to the table to work together to address community needs.
What are you doing to support local businesses and artists?
Aiding local businesses and residents has been at the front of our minds from inception. Our work has looked to bring more people to downtown Lynn where they would spend money in downtown shops and eateries. Based on BWI’s focus and success, many businesses have reported dramatically increased revenues as well as a higher average transaction.
Beyond Walls has had local artists participate in all of their events. Local artists are encouraged to apply to the annual call to artists and each years festival has seen local phenoms mixing it up with international stars. Thus far, BWI has had local art legends Temp, Relm, Tall Boy, Chrissy Lebel, Venom, Brian Denahy, Ted Kiley and many more participate as featured artists. Each festival has also seen BWI partner with RAW Art Works and their Good To Go team of local young muralists.
What’s the plan for more or new murals?
We plan on continuing to hold a summer street art festival with acclaimed artists and fantastic programming and events.
How can I get involved?
We are always down to collaborate and meet with folks for a cup of coffee. Drop us a line with you idea or question at firstname.lastname@example.org