Activist artists help colorful murals flourish in Toledo




TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Yusuf Lateef uses his brush to paint a brighter future for Toledo.

"For me, the real work is what happens to the community afterward," Lateef says of his work as a muralist in the city. His most recent creation is being installed on a North Detroit Avenue wall. "The mural is just the starting point to say 'let's do something.' It's a symbol of action."

Larger-than-life flowers in blues, peaches, and yellows radiate from the paint can of Detroit muralist Louise Chen — her environmental contribution on the side of Handmade Toledo in UpTown.

"It activates spaces and gets people to come out. The environment is so beautiful already; if I can be a part of that, that's a good thing," says Chen, who goes by a single name "Ouizi."

These artists are part of an infectious, rampant movement of muralist color that is being painted, sprayed, and installed on walls, underpasses and other exterior canvases all over Toledo.

"It's something we set out to do — make Toledo a city known for its murals, and in a few short years, it's happened," said Rachel Richardson, director of Art Corner Toledo.

Since its inception in 2010, ACT has helped activate 45 murals, most in the central city and downtown. Those murals are joined by dozens of others coordinated through the Toledo Arts Commission, an active public art program at Bowling Green State University under the direction of professor Gordon Ricketts that has worked in the Old South End and the east side, or spearheaded by individual artistic activists. Murals become reality through state, county, and city funding; grants, and monetary or material donations.

Murals make a political statement, visually boost blighted areas, offer a sense of community, and teach youths the potency of creative expression. Local activist Lorna Gonsalves' work through the Creative Peaceful Resistance initiative produced Rising Above Bigotry, an artistic compilation born from discussions by young people of reclaiming their neighborhoods after the neo-Nazi rallies in 2005, and was the catalyst for powerful murals in North Toledo.

"It forever changes how (youths) view themselves in the community," says Michelle Carlson, programs coordinator for the Toledo Arts Commission, which runs Young Artists at Work, a six-week apprentice program for high-school-age kids. Started in 1994, YAAW always involves a mural project for some of its 40-plus apprentices every summer.

Murals have economic power. The 18th Street Panels, murals created in boarded-up windows by multiple artists on a building vacant for more than a decade at Madison and 18th streets, enjoyed development in the wake of the murals, when it was refurbished in 2015 by ProMedica to house the Ebeid Institute for Population Health.

"I think in direct and indirect ways, murals stimulate an economy. You buy paint from local suppliers, you have restaurants feeding your volunteers . and all of that money is staying in Toledo," Ms. Richardson said.

Or perhaps, in the simplest of terms, murals merely brighten a person's day. Joe Balderas is the garden and building administrator for the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, but as the first executive director of the 20-year-old organization, he's somewhat of an institution in the Old South End's Latino community.

"When you see something appealing, doesn't a smile come on your face?" Balderas asked. "It makes a community a community."

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Staff writer Taylor Dungjen contributed to this report.

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Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/
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