On weekends I still venture to my hometown to work at a non profit I’ve spent the better part of 13 years or so working for. We make art together in studio for an annual auction every May that helps to fund the program and keep it free for kids that need it.
In the years working at that non profit, I’ve also spent time working across the street at a coffee shop (Now closed) during the height of what many identify as a recession and for downtown Lynn a guttural depression.
I was watching drug exchanges in broad daylight in the middle of the street, reading the news and reports of folks over dosing on heroin in these abandoned store fronts because they had nowhere else to go, and being personally victimized by theft and intimidation for my measly coffee shop money (which I knew was out of pure desperation).
The city, specifically the downtown, had a notorious reputation in my youth that it still holds to this day. The statistics of crime and drug use were always toted as one of the flagship issues with the city. We were warned not to walk down Union street after dark, not to venture downtown at all for fear of being jumped and left for dead.
Even given my direct experiences in the aforementioned time working at the coffee shop, I still valued my city for its diversity and it’s character. Even with college professors singing the legendary nursery rhyme evoking my City of Sin (yeah even professors not from here somehow knew it) I stood in my convictions as a believer in the city.
Over time the non profit fully expanded to not only all 4 floors of the building, but expanding into the space next store and becoming a literal beacon for the downtown. Along with the rise of this organization came the rise and fall of different art coalitions within Lynn itself.
LynnArts continued to be a staple of the old world art community and extended a hand to the youth offering a School Of Rock, open model drawings, open calls for art exhibitions and housing artist work spaces. I was able to organize the first and only Comic show in Lynn (RIP North Shore Comic Con) and a personal art show in a private loft, Natural Guides with my now wife, Alicia.
The Lynn Museum also saw a massive resurgence and started to actively host events, community fundraisers and guest speakers. The downtown played host to several other small artist workshops and communities looking to create maker spaces and affordable studio space in Lynn, all the while trying to compete with neighboring cities which have massive, sometimes oversaturated art markets.
This is a struggle that still exists today.
I found it so strange and out of left field when another art organization seemingly materialized over night and toted it’s mission to create wide spread murals in the city and help build communities. It felt like overnight this new organization was just here with lots of funding and backing to make things happen.
And they did.
The first mural festival was, as I understand it, a success for the city in getting attention to the downtown that hadn’t been in a positive spotlight for decades. Given these art murals are beautiful and they truly tapped powerful designers to execute ideas and visions onto blank slates that really captured audiences.
Having worked in this community for over 10 years I admit I was put off by this all happening at once out of the blue when I’ve watched organizations and artists struggle in this community for years to make an impact and feel like they belong. When the mural festival happened, there seemed to be no involvement from any local artists or any of the YOUTH of Lynn, which is what is going to carry the city and these communities forward into the next generation. For a community that already struggles to engage the younger generations of artists and give them opportunities, I feel this was a huge misstep. Why are any Lynn artists going to stay in the community or try and struggle for opportunities if the first opportunities are given to artists from AROUND THE WORLD? Not even in their own community?
As one of those artists, my response was to seek opportunities in said surrounding towns and cities which Lynn always competed against. This is how I have found work and opportunities to move forward, and I’m sure other Lynn artists have approached these problems in the same way. Once again Lynn struggles to compete with surrounding art communities and to engage the youth with opportunity.
The push for development as a result of all this however is something that is of concern. My first case in point being the downtown Lynn community garden which has been completely ripped out and new condos/buildings being dropped right on top of its place.
The rise of rent and cost of living in the city continues to spike as developers drop more and more Condo’s and renovated new loft apartments that are completely out of the price range for anyone living in these communities, with hopes of attracting the more wealthy to move to the downtown because its “just outside of Boston.”
All the while there are still folks sleeping on bus stop benches, squatting in open barren lots under the surveillance of these curated “art pieces” that are toted as building communities.
How are we building communities by encouraging the development of properties that the COMMUNITY cannot afford to live in?
How are we building communities by placing signs along aforementioned empty lots to vacate the space and that it’s private property, kicking out someone struggling to survive in the 2 Degree New England winter?
Think about the hypocrisy of walking through the downtown seeing these plastered paper signs directing your attention to the murals this organization has stood behind while the city not-so-quietly ushers out the citizens of Lynn, the COMMUNITY that has enriched and helped to bring culture to the downtown.
I’m not placing the blame solely on the organization structuring mural festivals. That’s not fair, and I’m sure there are folks who are working and volunteering for said organization that have been in the community and do have positive aspirations for the city itself.
I am placing blame on a history of corruption specifically in real estate monopolies, in restaurant owners also owning non profits designed to help families in need and double dipping into said funds, in particular rental companies that refuse to rent apartments that have sat abandoned in high rises for many years without any explanation, in politicians that campaign one way and then vote and throw their money into an entirely different way.
I wanted to write about this because it’s something that is on my mind all the time, especially when I venture into Lynn on Sundays to still work at the art non profit, making art with my friends for the same reason and purpose we always have. I think about it as I walk past the remnants of the community garden, I see the posters prompting me to go look at murals when they are already all encompassing and looking down on me. They are a reminder of something I couldn’t be part of and frankly don’t want any part of.
If you are looking for real authentic representation of the city of Lynn, consider checking out the following:
Raw Art Works – rawartworks.org consider visiting and donating to the organization that helped to raise me into the artist I am, they are still thriving and an inspiration to the youth of Lynn. They are still independently creating beautiful murals WITHOUT hidden agendas.
Lynn Arts – lynnmuseum.org Consider dropping into an open drawing session, seeing a show at the blackbox theatre, or checking out a gallery show. Around the corner is the Lynn museum which will get you caught up on all the history of Lynn.
Faces of Lynn – Local magazine spotlighting citizens from all walks of life. This is a creation of RAW alumni Cinda Danh, one of the true grit movers and shakers in the city. If you can find copies of the magazine please check it out. I was lucky enough to be a part of the second issue, it’s still one of my favorite photos anyone has taken of me.
There are so many more wonderful authentic organizations in Lynn that are fighting to make a difference, if you want to make a difference too consider joining Lynn United For Change https://www.facebook.com/LynnUnitedMA/
thanks for reading.
PS: I hope you enjoyed some newly finished Fenrir pages in COLOR, having a blast working on the book. Look for more comic related posts in the future.