Old South End art murals celebrated
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
June 8, 2012: An effort to brighten Toledo’s Old South End and build a renewed sense of community is already working, according to a pair of artists who spearheaded an effort to paint art murals along the Broadway Corridor.
Artists Mario Torero, born in Perú and now living in San Diego, and Ricardo Quiñónez Alemán, raised in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México and now living in Toledo, led the project, which involved art students from Bowling Green State University and members of the public interested in adding a bit of color to the corridor.
Quiñónez related a story of a Perrysburg couple who had gone to the San Marcos supermarket for lunch, when they noticed the art mural effort. The couple was so enamored with what was happening that they stopped on their way home and spent two hours adding their own brush strokes to the effort.
“It’s a very rewarding feeling to know that someone likes what you’re doing and they want to share their time with you—so you give them a brush and they just start painting and enjoy it,” he said. “People recognize what we’re doing and they want to help somehow. Making a brush stroke on the wall—it means they want this to happen, they want the community to rise.”
Quiñónez stated other drivers would honk as they passed by a mural in progress, drawing a return wave from the group working on the project. He said that meant as much as people stopping to help.
“It is also a way of saying we are all doing this together,” he said. “It is a kind of moral support. At the end, we needed it, knowing that there are people supporting us. When someone said something positive about it, honked their horn, or waved to us at the mural site—it put a huge smile on our face and gave us the energy for coming the next day to keep painting.”
The two artists only intended to paint three or four murals over the ten-day project. But cooperative summer weather and unexpected permission from building owners allowed the group to complete eight brightly-colored murals—some from designs Torero had already sketched out, others created on the fly.
“I think it’s turning out very good, very positive,” Quiñónez said. “I think the whole idea of making murals in the neighborhood is to bring happiness and smiles to kids and residents of the South Side. I think it’s going to change the face of the South Side and all the comments that there’s too much crime, too much drugs going on and too much prostitution. There might be some of that, but not as much as what I hear. Bringing color into a neighborhood is a system of change. Once more murals appear in the neighborhood, I think crime is going to diminish.”
Quiñónez explained his belief that a brighter neighborhood will raise community pride and residents will start to take ownership of where they live. Quiñónez himself is a neighborhood resident, maintaining a loft apartment and art studio above La Galería de las Américas.
“They’re going to speak up and right themselves. They’re going to help rise this community,” he explained. “I think the artists are just sort of a spark. I think the artists and the residents are on the same page, that we want our neighborhood to improve, to be a much better place to live.”
“I’m extremely happy (with the project),” echoed BGSU art professor Gordon Ricketts. “It adds color and culture. It causes people to suddenly pay attention to what’s going on in a part of the city that has often been neglected. It’s awesome.”
Just as a part to celebrate the completion of the mural project was about to start Friday evening, Torero walked the Broadway Corridor again with an iPad, taking pictures so he could document the group’s effort. The setting sun shone brightly on the group’s work, adding more vibrancy to the photos and the public art display for passersby.
“Very satisfying, I had foreseen this and have been waiting to do this,” he said, admitting the anticipation of a return trip since finishing the I-75 bridge mural two years ago. “I call it a mural-thon—non-stop for ten days.”
But to Torero, who just turned 65 years old, the art mural project meant much more—a means of picking up an entire neighborhood to build a better future for the Latino residents who will keep beautification efforts going with the hope of rebuilding the Broadway Corridor and encouraging reinvestment.
“The place is so drabby, so abandoned, shut down—that a mural in the middle of it, it doesn’t make sense,” he explained. “When something doesn’t make sense, it gets the attention of the people. Once you see it, you cannot put it away. Now they’re realizing the impact a mural can have (on a community).”
“It’s a good part of town. We’re all trying to make a difference to make it so both the city and the neighborhood can feel better about itself and learn about its roots,” explained Ricketts.
Known to many in the art world as “El Maestro,” Torero’s biography refers to him as an “artivist”—part artist, part activist. He has cultivated an ongoing relationship with BGSU art students, and the latest project is extension of that exchange. The project also was part of a summer course in the exploration of public art.
“So it’s the energy and momentum that I brought here that we were able to accomplish together with the community,” he said proudly. “(I take away) the satisfaction and the record that my theory works, which is part of a master plan that art is a catalyst for change. This is the proof here. It was an abandoned little town, and with a dream of a certain group of people, they wanted the area to grow.”
Torero explained some BGSU students worked several years ago during their spring break on a public art project in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood. The relationship that developed also fostered the idea of a similar effort in Toledo. Torero even had the BGSU students develop and design the mural that adorns the side of the Providence Center. The theme of the mural reflects the social services offered there.
Torero started by examining an array of pamphlets and brochures in the center’s lobby.
“Seniors, food, health, kids, families, job-this and child-that: I just grabbed them all,” he said. “While the kids were painting, I ripped out all the possible images, about 50 of them. We had a workshop where the kids figured out the composition of those designs. That night we were projecting it. It literally happened overnight.”
A graffiti artist named Shad even joined the effort, designing a mural on the side of a vacant building that one day the owner hopes to reopen as a Cuban restaurant.
According to Torero, the building owner initially didn’t like the original design and became angry, because it did not include palm trees and beach scenes that would reflect the theme of his restaurant. But once the owner took some time to think about Shad’s design, he changed his mind and allowed the mural to continue.
Art patrons, artists, and invited friends of the participants took a walking tour of the art murals as part of an after party to celebrate completion of the project. The artists also put on a slide show
and explained some of the motivations behind the murals at La Galería de las Américas.
“The painting just happens to be a tool, the art,” Torero explained. “What we’re after is bigger things in life. We want to leave a mark. We want to impress the surroundings. We want to have an impact on the environment. We want to be mediums of change.”
The Organization of Latino Artists (OLA) formed since Torero’s first visit and will carry on the art mural project deeper into the Broadway Corridor. But Quiñónez explained that work will involve actively engaging Latino youth, as well as public art projects.
“Projecting movies for kids, creating a kids club, so kids can learn to take care of their neighborhood,” he said, expressing his hope of a partnership with Adelante, Inc. in that effort.
But Quiñónez, 40, stated OLA’s bigger job will be to continue to engage the Broadway Corridor community and keep the momentum going for the resurgence of the neighborhood. He sees the art mural project as a beginning, not an end in itself.
“We started this and now it’s their responsibility to take care of the neighborhood,” he said. “I think that’s where all of this is going—a very positive direction. We, as artists, may continue our work somewhere else someday. It’s up to the next generation to take care of it and add more ideas to keep rising this community. I think that’s the main goal of this.”