When she learned about a citywide project inviting Lynn youths to share their words and artwork about COVID-19 and the nation’s social unrest, Jah’Nyah Menen Spencer jumped at the opportunity to take part.
“Because of the whole coronavirus, it felt like me and other kids in Lynn have had to be very distant and to mature much quicker than we expected to,” she said. “I really just wanted to be a part of this city that I Iove so much and that has given me so much love and respect.”
A local agency has found a way for Lynn’s young people to creatively relate their experiences during the tumultuous months of pandemic and nationwide protests over racial injustice.
Beyond Walls is inviting city residents 5 to 21 years old to submit drawings, photographs, and written and recorded stories to be exhibited starting in October in a variety of mediums, including posters and murals mounted on walls, audio presentations, and website postings.
The project, Truth Be Told, is contingent on the success of a state-supported fund-raising drive the Lynn-based agency is launching to cover the $100,000 cost, according to Beyonds Walls’ chief executive officer, Al Wilson.
MassDevelopment, through its Commonwealth Places program, awarded an initial $25,000 in matching funds for the initiative, pledging another $25,000 if Beyond Walls can raise $50,000 of its own by Aug. 31.
“Everyone has been impacted by COVID-19, but none more than the youth, in this case of Lynn,” Wilson said, noting that when schools closed, “the kids were suddenly at home and isolated. And COVID-19 is scary. Add to that the really horrific acts of racism on the national stage, and they are even more scared.
“From talking to teachers, parents, and kids, we wanted to make sure the voices and stories of the young people were heard,” he added.
Begun in 2016, Beyond Walls helps Lynn and other cities engage in creative problem-solving, often with an artistic focus.
Beyond Walls has been accepting submissions for Truth Be Told so that it can move forward with exhibiting them if the fund drive succeeds. Several community organizations have been helping to recruit participants.
Spencer, an incoming senior at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, submitted a drawing of an African-American woman.
“For my inspiration, I looked online at pictures of beautiful Black women,” she said. “With everything going on in the world, with justice not being served for people of color, I thought people needed to see that Black is beautiful and that we, too, deserve to be heard.”
Spencer, who was one of three people portrayed in an outdoor mural painted by artist Hiero Veiga in Beyond Walls’ 2019 street art festival, said “it will be very exciting to have more of my own art seen by more people.”
Participants are invited to submit either a drawing or a photograph, accompanied by written and audiotaped words about the creation process and their experiences in the last few months. Beyond Walls has arranged for professional artists to help in exhibiting the works.
The design firm Amplifier, which includes renowned street artist Shepard Fairey, will convert the drawings to higher resolution images and then into large posters which — along with some of Amplifier’s own designs — will be assembled into a collage for display on a city wall.
The French street artist, JR, and his team, meanwhile, will assist in converting submitted photographs into large-scale posters for display on city walls.
Written and spoken words will be posted on Beyond Walls’ website. The firm Harbor Voices, which is assisting in curating the audio submissions, also will create an in-person or virtual presentation of them.
As a final feature of the project, Beyond Walls plans to install new works of public art around the city created by street artists from this area and beyond.
Wilson said that even in trying economic times, he hopes the initiative gets the funding support it needs to move forward.
Not only does it provide young people a platform to share their voices, he said, “but in a year where everything was canceled, this gives them something to look forward to. I think we owe them that.”
For more information, to participate, or donate, go to patronicity.com/truthbetold.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.