Richardson: Making Toledo a ‘City of Murals’Written by Rachel Richardson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1984, the Mayor of Philadelphia allocated $6 million of the City budget to battle their graffiti problem. He created a mural program to engage and provide an outlet to graffiti artists and an alternative to vandalism. 30 years later, Philadelphia is known as “The City of Murals” and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has grown into an organization responsible for facilitating programs in restorative justice, health and wellness, and has created over 3000 murals. It is a household name and its community impact is immeasurable. And, Philadelphia doesn’t have a graffiti problem anymore.
In Toledo, the problem is not graffiti. Though we do have our share. A much bigger problem, and cause for a certain sense of hopelessness on neighborhood streets, is the fact that buildings sit empty and decay. Entire blocks of central city neighborhoods have houses with broken or boarded windows. Lots where houses used to sit are now empty, gathering litter. Another thing that is happening is that community organizing groups are gathering in those neighborhoods and doing real hard work to identify areas where they can affect change. Area organizations like United Way and TMACOG are working alongside people who live in the neighborhoods to offer resources and partnerships. Residents are taking ownership of the community and encouraging others to join in.
Grassroots activism is making change on the everyday human level. One of the tools that neighborhoods employ is public art, not only to beautify, but to create an activity to gather around and contribute to. Murals have proven effective to battle blight, boost neighborhood revitalization, and encourage economic development. The process of designing and completing a mural encourages volunteerism and resource sharing. The best part is, once a mural is completed, its work has just begun.
In 2010 Art Corner Toledo (ACT) was founded with a mission to promote Toledo as a city full of socially conscious artists and activists by coordinating murals. It naturally grew into a community organizing agency focusing on neighborhood revitalization and economic development. After the first mural was painted on Jackson Street in what is now Manos Garden but at that time was a forgotten lot, it became obvious that by installing murals on walls in blighted neighborhoods; destinations and cultural sites would emerge and attract people.
Positive attention would be paid to parts of Toledo’s central city that were lacking in public or private investment. In the wake of every ACT mural, an empty lot or a building has been developed. In some cases, photos of these murals have received National and International attention, putting Toledo on the map as a city that embraces public art and is culturally rich.
To date, ACT has facilitated six murals with an overall budget of less than $10,000. Early time and work were volunteered by local professional artists and a coordinator. Materials were either donated or money was raised through community support. Small businesses in UpTown were particularly generous. In the fall of 2013, artists and the coordinator were paid for their work for the first time through contracts and stipends. In order for this program to see sustained success and continue its impact, it needs a steady stream of funding and partnership from the City as well as the County and private corporations and institutions that are willing to invest in the community. The program creates jobs for artists and project managers; stimulating the local economy and reinforcing the already growing creative industry, making Toledo an attractive city to visitors, potential investors, and creative minded imports. Cities across the country and the world are taking part in the mural movement and are watching as it heals the people in communities as well as the buildings and neighborhoods where they live. Toledo has begun to see these same results and can only succeed further with more public and private investment.
Corporate sponsors like Home Depot and ProMedica are already on board. Matching public money with corporate is a crucial aspect of the plan. Understandably, taxpayers have concerns about the idea of public funding for murals. But, given the chance to prove it works, they will see the benefit soon that other cities have shown with similar models. Not to mention the fact that the proposed $15,000 from the City budget would result in less than a penny per year expenditure split between our $284,000 neighbors. Just as Independent Advocates insists that it’s our responsibility to stop domestic violence, ACT suggests that it is our responsibility to invest in our neighborhoods.