Murals, public art used to revitalize neighborhoodsWritten by Danielle Stanton | | email@example.com
Vacant lots strewn with trash, abandoned buildings littering the city, boarded-up windows — it’s no secret that neighborhood blight is a problem in Toledo. “Revitalizing neighborhoods” even became a campaign issue in the November election.
One such abandoned building sits at the corner of 18th Street and Madison Avenue in the UpTown neighborhood. The Arts Commission, Art Corner Toledo (ACT), Home Depot, the UpTown Green planning committee and volunteers from United Way of Greater Toledo are all working together to place murals over its boarded-up windows.
The artwork is expected to do for UpTown what murals have done for other parts of the city. Murals have revived dilapidated landscapes, increased a sense of ownership and transformed a neighborhood plagued by vandalism and prostitution to one that kindles respect and pride. Murals have revitalized Toledo’s neighborhoods, supporters say, and more are planned.
“[Murals] have a huge, huge impact on the way people interact with the city and engage with the city,” said Ryan Bunch of the Arts Commission. “They’re more aesthetically appealing … they create meaning. … Some of Downtown is a little rough-looking at times and it creates this feeling that ‘I’m not alone here — there’s some life and activity here.’”
“Murals and public art have been proven to create destinations for people to visit, take photos and simply be in a positive, creative space and place,” said Rachel Richardson of ACT. “They also attract developers and activate parts of blighted neighborhoods that need some extra help due to decades of decay.”
“Neighborhood revitalization and economic development follow in the wake of public art.”
The murals at 18th Street and Madison Avenue will be painted on panels that can be moved to preserve the art for the future. The Arts Commission is accepting artist submissions with a design concept of “activism and community.” When finished, the murals will be 8.5 feet high and 14 feet wide with contributions from more than 10 artists.
“We are excited about it,” said Julie Champa, executive director of the UpTown Association. “And it will certainly add to the overall feel of the neighborhood in general.”
The mural will be adjacent to a park, called UpTown Green, that is currently under construction. Both the mural and the park are expected to enhance the neighborhood and entice potential developers.
Toledo City Council plans to vote on a measure to spend $15,000 on murals for the city. The money will match $15,000 offered by Lucas County and will go to ACT, said City Council member Lindsay Webb. The measure was on the agenda April 22 but was held for a vote, Webb said.
“Murals are a great way to capture the heart of a neighborhood and express it visually, Webb said. “It’s a part of developing and identifying and dealing with blight. My hope is that we can roll it out citywide and look at Summit Street or maybe on Secor Road and in East Toledo.”
Point Place is also another neighborhood that has expressed interest in getting a mural.
“Point Place would love to put up murals about boats and that aspect. I can’t do that if I don’t have the resources,” Webb said.
One percent of the city’s capital budget is designated to the Arts Commission, Webb said, but that money must be used on city-owned property. Council would like to get murals into neighborhoods to improve blight and increase economic development, she said.
Red Velvet Jazz Club
Artist Ahmad Jacobs said people in the Junction neighborhood had a sense there was a “movement” about to happen.
The business owners in the area and the residents were “all happy and full of excitement” to have him paint a mural on the side of the Red Velvet Jazz Club at Junction and Belmont avenues.
“It was really good feedback for me. I felt special,” Jacobs, 45, said. “It brought a lot of people out who didn’t want to come out.”
The building is under new ownership and in the process of opening, according to Jacobs.
Jacobs has painted a number of murals around the city, many of them as a volunteer. He attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and taught kindergarten through sixth grade before life got in the way and he said he lost his creative direction.
“I wanted to give up,” he said. “I ended up finding myself again and experiencing art. … I had to get humble. Once I started volunteering, it worked wonders. … My whole thing was to make the city my sketchbook. No one knew I was an artist. I started going around giving businesses a ‘hug.’”
Richardson enlisted Jacobs to paint the mural that he says altered the Junction neighborhood.
“The spirit of the neighborhood completely changed,” he said. “A lot of the businesses had hope when they saw it. And even the people, the winos, they had something positive to talk about. They saw people come into their neighborhood who didn’t live there (who) had passion and drive for their neighborhood. … They needed to step their game up and join in. … So many people I would never talk to came to talk to me and offer suggestion on what they wanted to see.”
The Love Wall
The “Toledo Loves Love” mural at Adams and 13th streets has not only helped revitalize the UpTown area, it has also become a destination spot. Wedding parties, residents and people taking selfies use it as a backdrop.
“It’s a great promoter of Toledo,” said Manos Paschalis, owner of Manos Greek Restaurant, 1701 Adams St., and the owner of the building sporting the “Toledo Loves Love” wall. “Yes, it brings people together and it brings energy to the area and it’s always positive.”
That positive energy can only enhance a neighborhood, Champa said.
“The ‘Toledo Loves Love’ has gotten a lot of attention. … So many people come to that and take pictures. It’s become synonymous with the district and we think that’s really cool.”
Paschalis said the mural is bringing in business; every year, more and more people who come out to see the mural are flocking to area businesses.
A new business is going in at the building the mural adorns. Toledoan Aggie Alt is opening Moxie Live, an art house and pub that will have art on display and offer theater, dance and “anything to do with art,” Alt said.
“I think the mural is such a perfect fit,” she said. “I think it’s going to help us identify with that area. Even people outside the city know it.
“The mural shows artists, ‘Yeah, you can have your work shown here and (the art world) isn’t dead,’ and I think the mural really promotes that.”
In 2013, the United Way of Greater Toledo held its Days of Caring event. The organization set out to “transform a neighborhood, strengthen relationships.” And to do that, they went straight to the Junction neighborhood residents to find out what changes they wanted.
The neighborhood responded. During the event, more than 30 properties were landscaped and mulched, 13 houses painted, five schools beautified, three wheelchair ramps built, two home foundations repaired, two playgrounds improved, one church basement floor installed and two murals painted, plus much more.
Titled “The Voyage,” one of the murals looks like a big blue wave rolling across the side of a building and wrapping around its edges.
It’s painted on the old Munchies building at North Detroit Avenue and Dorr Street, whose sign reads “Munchies. Again. Shrimp. Fish. Chicken.” Behind it sits a Family Food Center and, next door, a dollar store.
“The concept that we wanted to capture is that there is a voyage that needs to take place, for the past, present and future — so (the generations) know who they are and how they are connected to American history with a positive perspective,” said Alicia Smith, a resident and community organizer.
Smith sees the mural as not only a lesson in the voyage of life, but also a testament to relationships: Hundreds of volunteers, sponsors and residents worked together to make the mural and Days of Caring a reality.
“The most important thing is connection. There’s strength in connection; there’s power behind connection. … When you allow the community to have a voice you stop prescribing what you think they need and they start prescribing what they need,” Smith said.
United Way shifted to a grassroots way of interacting with the community about five years ago, said Emily Avery, director of community engagement at United Way of Greater Toledo. The organization listened to the residents at Days of Caring, acted and got great feedback, she said.
“We heard a lot from the neighborhood — it gave people hope again — just to see how much community support that they had,” Avery said. “It’s amazing what a little paint can do. We heard from people that it just kind of spread joy through the neighborhood.”
The Junction neighborhood is not done with its revitalization plan. They recently cleared sidewalks, organized a voter registration drive and will continue to landscape and paint. The journey is not over, Smith said.
“We’re going to continue to do murals. The voyage doesn’t stop,” she said. “The minute you dock the boat, you have to continue.”
Gordon Ricketts was influenced by the Latino art of his San Diego childhood. As art professor and director of the Arts Village at Bowling Green State University, he wanted to bring the Latino art style to Toledo. To do so, he enlisted his friend Mario Torero.
Torero, an artist born in Peru, helped paint 60 colorful murals on the concrete support piers for the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and I-5, called Chicano Park in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood.
Ricketts brought Torero to Toledo about five years ago for the first of several murals, two on the underpass of I-75 on Broadway Street. Passersby can see the murals are large and Hispanic in style, much like the murals at Chicano Park.
“Broadway made sense because of the bridge,” Ricketts said. “We got permission from ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) and the mayor’s office and business leaders in the neighborhood. It was a pretty involved project.”
Students from BGSU and residents helped Torero paint the murals that stretch from the I-75 underpass to the Green Lantern at 509 Broadway St., Ricketts said.
Since the murals have graced the neighborhood, leaders said they no longer see the graffiti or prostitution they once did along Broadway Street. So far, none of the murals have been vandalized and a survey of the neighborhood showed that residents like the artwork and the gardens.
Maria Rodriguez-Winter, interim director of the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center at 1225 Broadway St., said the murals have had a transformative effect on the neighborhood, which in the past was very depressing with boarded-up buildings and absentee landlords. The decline started about 20 years ago, said Rodriguez-Winter, who has been involved in the neighborhood for the past 40 years.
About 10 years ago, things started to change and now every day she sees a synergy at work in the neighborhood, she said. Residents now have a sense of pride and respect for the neighborhood. The murals are a big part of that.
“We love [the murals],” she said. “We feel that they really add a lot of beauty to the neighborhood and it engages people. When Mario comes and when Gordon comes into the area with the students, they are engaging the community.
“It’s just a process of having the people of the neighborhood be involved in the creative aspect of it. We’ve gotten so much positive feedback that some of the businesses want to have their walls painted.”
This year will be the fifth year Torero has come to Toledo to paint. The artist will be in the Old South End neighborhood June 17-18, Ricketts said.
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