Preface: How do you combat a dangerous statistic—harmful talk that the place you live is a dying city, the 15th most miserable place to live in the U.S. (thank you, Forbes), plagued with an unbelievably high unemployment rate, and an unusual amount of housing foreclosures?
It starts in a corner. Art Corner Toledo (ACT) rests in Northwest Ohio, a place that nurtures the artistic minds of painters, sculptors, sketchers, musicians, actors, dancers and poets. It is also a mecca for the revolutionary ideas of activists, community organizers, students, mentors, locally-minded business owners and independent minds.
Rather than be defined by the problems affecting our medium-sized, Midwestern city, ACT focuses on ways to promote Toledo as a leading community, fostering change through art and activism.
1. Meet the Founder
Rachel Richardson is a life-long Toledo resident, women’s rights activist, jazz singer, and up-and-coming singer-songwriter. It is through her soulful music; past and current work with at-risk populations (David’s House, The Center for Choice, and Independent Advocates); and true passion for all-things-Toledo that ACT has come to fruition.
While much of the country sees Toledo as a mess of negative facts and figures, Richardson only knows it as the home of many talented and radical world changers. If you’re living in the same Toledo as Richardson, then you may know that within the past two years, a number of DIY, grassroots organizations and art galleries have entered the scene (including Independent Advocates and Bozarts Fine Art and Music Gallery, owned and operated by artist Jerry Gray), furthering the idea that art and activism are alive in Toledo, Ohio.
But it’s not just the Richardsons and Grays who are working toward a positive and well-represented Toledo. Their projects wouldn’t be half as successful without the consistent support of the area’s most progressive-thinking members. Richardson states that at the heart of every amazing organization, gallery and movement generated out of Toledo is the active community. “Toledoans can’t seem to help themselves but to be supportive and community minded,” she says. “Even if it means donating $2.00, baking cupcakes with the agency logo carefully frosted on top for a bake sale, donating sound equipment to a fundraising event, or volunteering to bartend the free beer and wine; they want to be involved.”
Richardson has taken Toledo’s community consciousness to a new level with Art Corner Toledo. Utilizing the talents of local women, men and youth, ACT brings together area leaders and artists, not excluding writers and photographers, to recognize the many goals we can and will achieve together.
“I want to concentrate and focus these aspects, document them, and make sure everyone knows that this is what Toledo is about, whether anyone is watching or not,” says Richardson.
2. Artists and Activists
“People who want to make change are naturally drawn to art and expression,” Richardson explains. “Art connects people on a visceral level, and once it’s created and you feel like you’ve made something, everything else doesn’t seem so out of reach.”
ACT plans to work with a variety of agencies to pair with local artists on unique, community-based projects. Well-connected to the non-profit sector, Richardson hopes to work with organizations that bring awareness to domestic violence, urban agriculture, homelessness and reproductive rights. Artists who support a particular cause will work closely with the organization, as well as community stakeholders to create a relevant artistic piece. Working partnerships currently consist as follows:
-Har Simrit-Singh/ Toledo Grows
-Jules Webster/ The Center for Choice
-Anthony McCarty/ Independent Advocates
-Tina G. Gionis/ Second Chance
Sticking to grassroots ideals, ACT strives to connect consciously-minded artists with organizations who actually need the community’s support in order to carry out their missions. The issues ACT promotes are not mainstream, as they sometimes express controversial and subversive points of view. The Humane Society and the Red Cross, for example, are worthy organizations, but they do not need an underground army of revolutionaries to help them generate funds or raise awareness.
“Topics like domestic violence, issues surrounding choice and urban living seem to stay under the radar,” says Richardson. “But that doesn’t stop Toledoans from doing the work, and the supporters from coming out in droves.”
3. The ACT Process
a. Form partnerships between local artists and local social service organizations to create a piece of art that depicts that particular agency’s brand of activism.
b. Bring all interested parties to the table (artist, agency staff, blogger, photographer and consumers of the agency’s services) to discuss the vision of the specific piece of art, and what it means to each person to be involved.
c. Document the partnership through the website and blog, including photographs of meetings and the progress of the piece of art.
d. Carry out the creation of the piece with leading artist.
e. Unveil and celebrate the “Look What We Did!” of it all.
f. Promote the finished product and encourage the community to be proud of its neighbors.
g. Prove that community participation holds up stronger than any statistic.
-Written by Emily Rippe