Urban Activist roundtable: Re-design ToledoWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jurich and Webster: Calling all creatives: Help re-design Toledo
A shift has occurred within the hearts and minds of many in Toledo’s creative community.
During the past four years, a budding group of well-educated, passionate social and artistic entrepreneurs has been laying the foundations for a cultural and economic change in Downtown that has the potential to redefine what Toledo stands for to its citizens and the Midwest.
Our city has a diverse and talented population of visual artists, designers, musicians/producers, poets, writers, social activists and cultural entrepreneurs who have carved out career niches for themselves spanning across artistic disciplines.
We share a collective identity, strengthened by the affirmation of community and rooted in the collective discoveries made as we transform our inner passions and strengths into physical manifestations of visual art or economically productive business enterprises.
We have all heard glorious stories in the media of second-tier, Rust Belt cities re-emerging from post-industrial distress to become centers of economic development and cultural meccas for artists and innovators. Although it may not be obvious to those who live in the suburbs, this story of urban rejuvenation is our story — Toledo’s story.
Those of us who have a lead role in the narrative, numbering in the hundreds and possibly thousands, invite all Toledo Free Press Star readers and Northwest Ohio residents to actively engage in helping to build and broaden the economic and cultural base of the Great Lakes region.
A small and dedicated few of Toledo’s creative community recently assembled to share our collective and individual histories, and most importantly, our thoughts regarding what we need to sustain and grow our sphere of influence within the city and region.
Through sharing our dialogue with readers of Toledo Free Press Star, we hope to inspire others to get involved in the artistic and creative community, to be the positive change we’d like to see for ourselves and the future of Toledo and the surrounding area.
The late Allan Kaprow, a well-known artist, critic and writer on the dissolution of boundaries between art and life, famously stated that acts of passive regard, even with a trained eye and critical mind, do not signify participation. Stated otherwise, to see and observe is not the same as to be involved.
Consider this an invitation to fully participate in the reshaping of Toledo.
Jules Webster is owner of Shine Ceramics and The Art Supply Dep?, a fine art supply store coming in July to Downtown Toledo. Stacy Jurich is a community organizer and freelancer. Both women are Toledo Free Press Star columnists.
Urban Activist Roundtable
Editor’s Note: Comments have been edited for length.
JULES WEBSTER: Welcome, thanks for coming. So what do we need to sustain and what do we need to grow this creative movement?
STACY JURICH: Just to recap what scene we have here: we have poets, muralists, Hip-Hop artists, visual artists, activists, entrepreneurs. We have people to document the creative class with video, recording studios, writers. We have potters, all kinds of musicians, people with access to radio, newspapers, TV.
IMANI LATEEF: Space is the thing we need the most. It’s nice to have the galleries and a lot of friendly venues, but you only get a space like Artomatic for a couple weeks. We need a space like Artomatic that’s there 365 days a year that we can work in if we wanted and that’s a community-type space for events. There’s so much talent in the city, but all the talent is forced to go to only a handful of places.
DUSTIN HOSTETLER: There’s so much talent out there, but most people are working from their homes. People are creating stuff in really isolated situations. Why things like Artomatic are so successful is because for a short amount of time you showcase stuff that normally you are keeping to yourself or selling outside of Toledo. That’s why [Jerry Gray’s] gallery [Bozarts] is so successful, because it’s focusing on these people who are producing lots of work, but that were doing it mostly behind closed doors. It’s a venue where there’s no pretenses — just show them what you got. We would benefit so much from some sort of more accessible workspace …
BEN LANGLOIS: Like a library, but for art …
DUSTIN HOSTETLER: … Where you could go in and use materials and interact with people. That’s the benefit of Artomatic.
KC SAINT JOHN: And maybe opening it up to educate, encouraging the community to come in …
DUSTIN HOSTETLER: Teaching music because the schools aren’t doing it. It’s the same idea. It’s opening up venues where we’re taking over some of this stuff because it’s not available otherwise.
IMANI LATEEF: It might not be a matter of finding space as much as introducing ourselves as a body to these organizations that need us, like going to the Boys & Girls Club, or going to a Y …
BEN LANGLOIS: Or the Catholic Club on 17th. There are already kids going there every day. That’s a captive audience, information sponges.
LILD: But more than that — and I can only really speak from the Hip-Hop end of it — there needs to be confidence instilled in the artists here. It takes a lot of confidence to take constructive criticism and until the people in the arts here realize they are good enough to make it — Lyfe Jennings made it, Anita Baker is from here. Part of what I’m doing is showing that it’s not about where you’re from or what they say about your CD, it’s about what you do. The artists here don’t believe they can go anywhere. Once they get popular here, they stop because they’re afraid to go to the next city and start over.
STACY JURICH: Other people need to realize there is so much talent here, so that everyone doesn’t have to look to the big cities for the new music or a new CD or a cool scene — they can look here.
DUSTIN HOSTETLER: Not only does the public need to appreciate the talent, but the venues and the promoters need to appreciate the talent is as good or better than the talent they are bringing in. It’s easier for me to get an art show in New York than it is in Toledo; it’s easier for bands to get a gig in Detroit or Ann Arbor than it is in Toledo. It’s a grass is always greener thing.
KC SAINT JOHN: I see a lot of bands saturate the market here. I also see bands that don’t go out of town. You can count on your friends only so often. You’ve got to put your heart on your sleeve, go to another town and then see if your music will stand.
Gig swap. This is something I always tell bands. Get out there and start networking and working together because, just like this group here in Toledo, there are groups that are trying to do the same thing there, so definitely keep pushing things out of Toledo, bringing things through. And document. Record everything. When you go play your show in Chicago, record your show in Chicago. You can’t have a “Live in Paris” CD if you don’t go to Paris and play.
JULES WEBSTER: We’re all doing really amazing things and we all need to do a better job of documenting and then sharing that documentation. It would do a lot for all of us and get us into the suburbs. We’ve got to get us and our business and our art and our music and our poetry into the ’burbs. And get the ’burbs to come Downtown.
RACHEL RICHARDSON: And not even all the way out to the ‘burbs. When you [Tim Ide] said part of your show would be to document the architecture of a home in the Old West End, why aren’t we documenting architecture in Old Orchard or on the East Side or on George Street Corridor? We need to include the rest of Toledo into this.
I’m being told from a lot of different directions that the Old West End is a very exclusive club and we don’t let anybody in and that is really working on my nerves because I know that I try really hard to include everybody. But I might also be guilty of never going to Perrysburg or Sylvania. I need to work on it myself, but we all need to make Toledoans feel welcome, not just people who hang out in Downtown and in the Old West End.
One of my major goals is to revitalize Downtown; that’s still in my mindset. That’s because I want the people from Sylvania and Perrysburg to come and spend their money in Downtown. But we need to make them feel welcome if they are going to come and spend their money with us.
RYAN BUNCH: I’m interested in getting our story out to people because they need to come down and see what’s happening. But the other thing that needs to happen is while we’re expanding out we really need to focus on expanding inward; Toledo is a very culturally segregated place. It’s not incredibly diverse. I get that comment a lot that when you look around a table, it’s
predominantly white faces. That’s one of the things I loved about the Ground Level. When you walked in that place, everybody was just cool and it didn’t matter, and that was a really rare thing. I think about this a lot. And I don’t know what the answer is. Part of it is we don’t have any mass transportation. We don’t encounter each other on a regular basis in our daily lives, so we kind of live two separate lives. We live at separate parts of the neighborhoods and we don’t cross paths very often. As we’re trying to draw people from the suburbs to come down and see our events, we need to think about who’s already down here, who’s two to three blocks away that’s not coming to the event, that doesn’t know it’s happening right next door to them.
NATHAN MATTIMOE: Collaborating, I think that’s the key to that. I don’t know the Hip-Hop scene in Toledo and I love Hip-Hop. I would love to see more live Hip-Hop at [Ottawa Tavern] or Frankies. It’s opening our minds to different cultural aspects in Toledo. That’s the neat part of Old West End Records. It’s not genre-based at all; it’s completely diverse. Thinking outside of the Old West End and the Ottawa Tavern and these specific hubs is really important because it’s sad to me to get content. Being content is going to be the worst thing that’s gonna happen because we’ll never grow, we’ll never change and we’ll never evolve. We’ll just be cool with what’s been tried already.
JASON QUICK: Toledo is a car culture. People are gonna go where they want to go. If they want to come Downtown and check out whatever, they’re gonna get down here.
JERRY GRAY: This might not come as a shock but a more diverse audience is ideal. A more intelligent audience is what it creates. We need to organize ourselves; we need to organize people, whether it’s patrons, or audience, or artists, or ourselves, our information, we need to document ongoingly, and have the stuff we’ve already documented to put ourselves in context. I have a lot of ideas about starting a digital cultural archive. We could have all our portfolios on two or three terabytes, and that’s a couple hundred bucks. If we set that all up in a formatted way where people could sift through to find the information they want, it can be done fairly easily. People could pay to submit their information, people could pay to buy the information It could become an institution in a moment.
RYAN BUNCH: Rachel mentioned that we get criticism for being cliquey or exclusionary. I’ve thought about that and I was really concerned about it and then I kind of arrived at the conclusion that that perception comes from a group of people who are working really hard to take control of their neighborhood, and our neighborhood is primarily Downtown. I think you can’t revitalize a city from Old Orchard; it’s not a hub and it’s never going to be. This is the hub, this is the city, this has to live and live really strong before any of that is going to succeed. So if those people are upset about it, then they have a responsibility to take control of their own communities and their own neighborhoods.
JERRY GRAY: I’ve been attacked for not being diverse enough or hospitable enough.
STACY JURICH: Just to comment on what Bunch said about the culture of being culturally segregated, we need to take responsibility amongst ourselves before we start trying to convince suburban people to come Downtown. We need to step out of our own comfort zones. I went to the Peacock Café to hear Hip-Hop, first time I’ve ever been there. And because you [lilD] are writing in the paper and I am aware of those Hip-Hop shows, I went to the Peacock Cafe instead of going to the OT like I do every other day of the week. So I think if we want to see Hip-Hop, we need to go to where that’s playing instead of trying to get it to come to the OT.
JULES WEBSTER: Maybe we could all just try to be a little more friendly, try to welcome people to our events that we’ve never met before. I actually had someone at Bozarts once who asked me if I worked for the City of Toledo. (laughter) I was like ‘Welcome to Toledo, glad you’re here!’ But I’d like to encourage everyone to do that. One thing I also think we need to work on is financial
responsibility for artists, changing that perception of the lazy, unemployed, hard to get a hold of, won’t return phone calls artist. I think a lot of us have probably been that at some point in our careers. I think we’re all past that now, but if we could just kind of keep working on that and keep encouraging that and encouraging financial responsibility and savings. One thing I’m hearing from everyone is we all want another space to hang out in and be a part of, but we’re not going to be able to rent a space or create a space if we don’t have some savings to pull together.
KC SAINT JOHN: You touched on something that I advocate all the time: The 5-Foot Rule. If you come within 5 feet of anybody the rest of your life, you reach out and say hi. It just opens up a friendliness. And then I want to touch on something with the Old West End. Can someone tell me what the heart of the Old West End is and why it’s so awesome? The Toledo Museum of Art. We have got something that’s the most amazing thing and for those of you who aren’t aware, the Old West End is also the largest collection of Victorian houses in the world. People all over the world know the Old West End. They don’t know everything else, but if we can get them in, we can educate them. The art museum is free and it’s ours. Classes, the art, a priceless collection. I mean, you can walk down and have multimillion dollars around you.
IMANI LATEEF: That’s not the thing I would tell people about the Old West End. The thing I’d tell them is that all the artists live in the Old West End. Everything progressive comes out of the Old West End or Downtown. For the most part. Yeah, the art museum is cool, but the real value in that area is the fact that the Collingwood Arts Center is there, the artists, the actual people who create the value for Toledo, are there. The art museum, they’re bringing art from all over the world and rarely would an Old West End artist show there.
TIM IDE: I’d just like to make one comment about social networking. One thing that we can do to promote the entire scene in general is when someone puts something up, share that. I have 2,300 friends and I haven’t added a friend in months. I get friend requests every day because I’m
building a little buzz. Just click share. It only takes a second and so what? I’m friends with pretty much everybody in here, and when I look at your page we have 82 in common, but you got 380 or whatever, so it’s not the same people. Spider that around and we’re reaching now thousands of unique individuals and it only take a second. Yeah, I know 180 of my people have already seen it, but the other 2,000 haven’t, so it goes a long way for really free, quick promotion to where you see somebody’s doing something, spam that out for them, knock that out quick.
IMANI LATEEF: As far as documenting where this all started, the first Artomatic was definitely the starting point, the way I see it. Because it did bring all these different genres together in one spot, artists networking far more than they ever did previously. We had Hip-Hop represented, we had the Toledo Ballet, we had every other genre represented. At that point it really pushed the whole creative scene that much further.
And I don’t know if anyone mentioned it, but I think Marc Folk being on the Arts Commission sort of changed the energy for me. I think that’s when things started to really change. I’ve been an artist my whole life, but until around that time, I never actually got a call or an email from the arts commission saying we want you to be involved in this. So they were reaching out to me more and reaching out to other parts of the community, keeping that up is important.
YUSUF LATEEF: I don’t mean to get metaphysical (laughter) —
RACHEL RICHARDSON: Oh, please do!
YUSUF LATEEF: But I think we need a soul. There’s so much body and mass and talent — the body of everything, it’s here. We need to — whether it’s virtual space like the Internet or actual space like a building — whatever we infuse into that has to be a soul that beams out, you know what I mean? Wherever it goes, it just beams out there like a beacon. I can’t wait to say ‘I told you so, I told you so,’ because I saw this coming years ago, just in meeting people and watching people and what they were doing. I saw that, man, this place is just a giant and still growing. But I think right now it’s at a point where we see this thing, now we’ve got to put a name to it, we need to put a face on it. And I think expand it even further than any type of Internet social networking could ever do. It could be something as small as a bumper sticker, it could be a word, it could be a name, like Julie’s shirts, ‘Team Toledo.’ Actually, what did it for me was ‘Chicago Doesn’t Need You.’ That was the shirt that did it for me. I want to wear that to Chicago, you know what I’m saying?
MIGHTY WYTE: What I keep noticing, regardless of what angle we approach it from, is attitude and opinion. Whether it be the attitude of local artist saying I can’t do it, I can’t go to Chicago and be successful, or the opinion of people saying the art crowd is cliquey and not accessible, it all boils down to the way we think. We are the art community, and I think the biggest thing we can do — and we can start doing now, we don’t have to wait for a place or wait for somebody to do something else — is encourage interdependency. What can I help you with? I need CD art, or you need somebody to help you record music, you need somebody to help you master. I need someone to help put a website together. It’s OK to ask for help. If everybody’s accessible and OK with each other, and quick to ask for help, it lightens the mood and everybody’s happier. … Interdependency. It’s free, we can do it now, it’ll change the mood of everything and it’s so easy to do.
BEN LANGLOIS: We’re already aware we’re all working the same audience and that audience is relatively small still. So we are all competing in a way for that same audience at times. The only way around that problem is if we have a show or an event that is competing, we both need to be working just as hard to promote the other one. Just so that the audience in general can be bigger.
DUSTIN HOSTETLER: Five years ago, we didn’t have the problem of there being too many things to do, and I think now we have that all the time and that’s an awesome problem to have. It’s a big-city problem. And you’re right, if I go to your event and you remind me there’s that thing going on across the street afterward, I might actually do a little bar-hopping or I might actually drive across the city and check out more than one thing because God forbid we have multiple experiences in one night with multiple groups of people and spend our money in multiple places.
IMANI LATEEF: Maybe if we promote a collective event for each month, so basically your show is our event and we’re using all of our personal resources to promote your show …
YUSUF LATEEF: Possibly, or maybe this particular event is the official Team Toledo event of that night and that’s what we are all doing. So even if we’re sharing other nights, that night no, it’s the official night and maybe we intentionally keep the crowd for two or three different acts ourselves. We act like our own promoter.
MIGHTY WYTE: Organized crime works because it’s organized (laughter)
STACY JURICH: OK, final comments. Thirty seconds each.
JULES WEBSTER: One thing I want to say is that what we don’t have is more support from channels 11, 13, 24 and FOX. I want television coverage of our groups. I feel like we don’t have it.
LILD: I just think we all need to know each other better. Let’s just continue to diversify. Let’s just go to each other’s events and be more supportive and send that support out to the rest of the community.
NATHAN MATTIMOE: We can’t be afraid to crosspromote. We can’t be afraid to be like, ‘I know you’re doing this, but here’s this flier.’ You go to Detroit, fliers are everywhere, from every single other bar; you do that in Toledo and it’s like, Oh my god. It’s just the way it is. Don’t be afraid of that and don’t be afraid of bar owners that are just trying to make their place the hub of culture in Toledo because it’s not gonna happen.
RYAN BUNCH: I think the best way to spread the message is to be an individual ambassador. As much as we’re talking about helping each other promote each other’s events and pushing that outward, I think that’s great, but I think we should also make the personal commitment to once a month visit an area of town that we don’t go to, be it the South End, Old Orchard, or wherever, and go to an event there and talk to people at the those events and tell them what we’re doing. The best way to get people to come down here is to have a conversation with them in a place that they feel comfortable. I’ll take that challenge.
JERRY GRAY: Shake hands more often, stay friendly, just keep doing what you‘re doing and you’ll become more in demand and, as you do, so will your friends, and as they do, so will their friends. Everything’s going a lot better than what I’ve ever seen in Toledo.
DUSTIN HOSTETLER: I’m with Jerry. I don’t think anybody’s doing anything wrong, I just think we need to do more of what we’re already doing.
HAR SIMRIT SINGH: One thing I was thinking about this whole time is when I lived out West it was really cool because there are a lot towns out there that were built upon certain industries
and some of those industries’ times came and went. There’s just this void that’s left there, and it tends to draw creative people into it. It’s kind of what’s going on in Toledo, but on a larger scale. It’d just be cool to see Toledo follow that energy and move into something bigger and better. Not only just for Toledo but even this region, kind of becoming a cultural mecca for this whole Midwest area and have that be Toledo’s new identity versus Jeep or whatever else that Toledo’s known for. Transvestites on “M*A*S*H” or whatever. (laughter) Let’s redefine it. It’d be cool to see something come out of it.
YUSUF LATEEF: One thing about Toledo is we have a work ethic like crazy. There are more scrappers (laughter), a scrap yard in every corner. I used to scrap. Talk to everybody in a 500-yard radius and somebody scraps. And it’s a small city and there’s still scrap! (laughter) So it’s just like that’s the spirit of Toledo right there. You don’t need a lot to make it. We really create from what’s here. I think that’s the spirit of Toledo and I see it everywhere. We don’t have shit but we got shit. (laughter)
JULES WEBSTER: OK, we’re out of time.
MIGHTY WYTE: Thank you Stacy and Jules for putting this together. This is the catalyst. We all want better things for our city and this is it. We’re getting together and doing it instead of just talking about it. I’m excited.
Ryan Bunch: Performing and Literary Arts Coordinator at the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. Music Editor at Toledo.com. Community events coordinator. Former Arts and Entertainment Editor at Toledo City Paper. Poet. Southeast Michigan native. Old West End resident. More info: acgt.org, Toledo.com.
Jerry Gray: Owner of Bozarts. Artist. Writer. Vocalist. Bartender. Advocate. Toledo Free Press Star columnist.
Dustin Hostetler: Graphic artist (under moniker UPSO). Publisher of art magazine Faesthetic. Partner at design agency Studio Sans Nom. Runs Pretend Records. Board member at Arts Commission of Greater Toledo and Old West End Historic District Commission. Co-owner and manager of Grumpy’s Deli. Toledo Free Press Star contributor. Toledo native. More info: dustinhostetler.com.
Tim Ide: Filmmaker. Farmer. Founder of Justajunkie Films. Partner in TiMe To Productions. Producer of the DVD series/TV show “Miserable City … you’re in good company,” an ongoing project documenting Toledo’s music and arts scene. Toledo native. More info: miserablecity.tv (soon to be live).
Stacy Jurich: Activist. Traveler. Community organizer. Advocate of sustainable living. Co-founder of nonprofit Toledo Choose Local. Organizer of Toledo Green Drinks. Board member for Toledo Bicycle Co-op and Urban Environmental Institute. Toledo Free Press Star columnist. Sylvania native. More info: toledochooselocal.com, greendrinks.org, toledobikecoop.org, ueitoledo.com.
Ben Langlois: Musician. Music teacher. Creator of Old West End Records. Toledo native. More info: oldwestendrecords.com.
Imani Lateef: Graphic designer. Poet. Event promoter. Adminstrator and contributor to local events blog Groundleveltoledo.com. Co-owner of former Ground Level Coffeehouse. Raised in Toledo. More info: myillwork.com, groundleveltoledo.com.
lilD: Radio host. Entertainment blogger at thewordeyeheard.com. Toledo Free Press Star columnist. Toledo transplant from Louisiana. More info: facebook.com/thewordeyeheard.
Nathan Mattimoe: DJ. Producer. Musician. Sculptor. Member of Detroit-based Bang Tech 12 international DJ collective. Works with Old West End Records. Toledo native. More info: bangtech12.com.
Jason Quick: Singer-songwriter and guitarist. Contributor to OWE Records.
Rachel Richardson: Musician. Activist. Co-founder and co-director of nonprofit Independent Advocates, which works with domestic violence victims. Founder and project coordinator for Art Corner Toledo. Toledo Free Press Star columnist. Product of Toledo. More info: iatoledo.org, artcornertoledo.com.
Kc Saint John: Musician. Glass artist. Fire artist. Owner of Lost Peninsula Arts and Glass and Support Your Local Talent. Former record executive and major label talent manager. Does special events at Toledo Museum of Art. Manager of collaborating artists group The Glass Dojo. Toledo Free Press Star columnist.
More information: www.kcsaintjohn.com.
Har Simrit Singh: Artist. Muralist. Owner of Intuition Clothing Company. More info: www.intuitionclothingco.com.
Jules Webster: Potter. Owner of Shine Ceramics. Ceramics instructor at Space 237 Galleries. Pro-Toledo Apparel designer. Preparing to open a Downtown art supply store called The Art Supply Depo. Toledo Free Press Star columnist. Toledo native. More info: www.artsupplydepo.com, shineceramics.com.
Mighty Wyte: Songwriter. Audio producer. Owner of production company Unfeher Advantage. Toledo Free Press Star music writer. Born in Toledo. More info: mightywyte.com.
Tags: Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, Ben Langlois, Dustin Hostetler, Har Simrit Singh, Imani Lateff, Jason Quick, Jerry Gray, Jules Webster, Kc Saint John, lilD, Marc Folk, Mighty Wyte, Natahn Mattimoe, Rachel Richardson, Ryan Bunch, Stacy Jurich, Tim Ide, UPSO, Urban Activist, Yusuf Lateef