Mural festival seeks to make Lynn a destination for public art
LYNN — Bachata blaring in the background, Ruben Ubiera took a puff of a cigarette and stared long and hard at his latest mural. His studio is located in Miami’s Wynwood, an international destination for graffiti and public art, but for the past week and a half, the Dominican artist has created art in Lynn.
The theme for the second annual Beyond Walls mural festival was love. So Ubiera painted Venus, the Roman goddess of love, as a deconstructed neoclassical statue. Behind her are messages inspired by the city, specifically a play on a famous phrase about Lynn. It reads: “Lynn, Lynn, City of Love. Follow Us and Rise Above.”
“I added three styles in it, the graffiti, which is freestyle,” Ubiera said. “Then I asked people, ‘What would you like on the wall?’ There’s a language that speaks directly to the community.”
Lynn’s two-week Beyond Walls mural festival continues through Sunday, Aug. 19, with a “Rock the Block” closing event Saturday. Artists from as far away as Argentina, Los Angeles, and Montreal applied and were selected to make works of art on brick.
Mariela Ajras, an artist from Buenos Aires, said during one of the festival’s panel discussions that Lynn reminded her of the set of a television show.
“I’m painting at the Washington Square Residence, which used to be the center for young women in Lynn,” Ajras said. “I keep listening to stories about how Lynn used to be or that it has this population that’s vulnerable. I’m just in awe to see how beautiful this place is all the time.”
She spent an afternoon with those who live at the residence, had dinner with many longtime Lynners, and listened to their stories. Now they cheer her on when she paints.
“We came up with this idea to paint an embrace, women holding each other,” Ajras said. “The concept of sorority, and that was something that we ended up doing collectively.”
Last year, 20 artists, representing many of the cultures that make up Lynn, painted 15 murals with some measuring up to 3,840 square feet.
This year, 25 artists will make at least 25 large-scale murals and smaller mixed-media pieces.
More than 40 community events have been organized around the festival, including walking tours, drawing classes, and yoga.
The artists are staying in nearby college dorms and enjoying dinners most nights at Tacos Lupita.
They said they’ve been welcomed by the community, even though a few rainy days slowed their progress.
When 4 feet of water filled the warehouse that held all of the paint cans and generators, volunteers, artists, and locals put on their rain boots and helped clean things up.
Artist Beyung of Montreal said his mural was inspired by the plight of the refugee.
“It is about traveling,” Beyung said. “People that are traveling to escape their country or for different reasons.”
Beyond Walls began as a grass-roots effort of residents, business owners, and public art enthusiasts.
This year, they were able to crowdfund $80,000 for the festival and programming, and they received a match from the state.
The Barr Foundation awarded the nonprofit a $200,000 grant for the festival and programming. Among other efforts around town are lighting three dark underpasses with colorful LED lighting, installing 12 vintage neon artworks on dimly lit corners, and creating a sculpture paying homage to the city’s industrial past.
What’s next for their redevelopment efforts? A 3-acre waterfront site near the ferry terminal on Blossom Street, off the Lynnway.
Beyond Walls is leasing the parcel, which offers a view of the Boston skyline, for three years and plans to bring shipping containers to delineate the perimeters, serve as canvases for art, and house pop-up shops, wine bars, breweries, and cafes.
“Now we’re looking at how do we ensure that parties that live in downtown, that live in this community have real public access to the waterfront,” said Al Wilson, founder and executive director of Beyond Walls.
“How do we make sure they’re safe getting to the waterfront, that they can get there by foot, and that on the waterfront they have amenities that are multigenerational?”