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Like many an idea whose time has come, it started with some "wouldn't it be cool if ... " conversations over food between people who saw possibilities. In this case, two Bowling Green State University art teachers and a community leader met over tacos at a lunch counter in the Old South End.
Three years later, a dozen murals shouting with color invigorate a half-mile stretch of Broadway Street from the I-75 overpass just south of downtown to Crittendon Avenue. They're on concrete piers under the freeway and the sides and fronts of old buildings. And their numbers are growing: Alberto Marin, who painted huge murals inside San Marcos Taqueria & Grocery near the High Level Bridge, is finishing one on Western Avenue at Broadway. Plans are in store for more next summer.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view mural images
Wielding brushes and precious paint ($160/gallon for Nova Color's cobalt blue is the most expensive), artists have included 30 BGSU students, a nurse, teachers, a factory worker/graffiti artist, a nun, neighborhood kids, a widow who painted her late husband as an ancient warrior, and the occasional passerby. Footing the bill was grant money from BGSU and donations. There was also a charismatic leader.
Mario Torero, a Peruvian-born 65-year-old, has painted his trademark Picasso's Eyes in Lima, Peru; San Diego, and above the door to Joe Martinez's studio next to La Galleria de las Americas on Broadway. Torero is lean, his smile broad, and his long, gray pony tail sometimes catches paint. A natural teacher, he's stoked by so much passion that he describes himself as an "artivist" (artist/activist).
BARRIO LATINO ART FESTIVAL
The murals are on and near Broadway Street between the I-75 underpass on the north and Crittendon Avenue on the south.
Some of the mural artists will display their work at the Barrio Latino Art Festival, noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 22, in the 1200 block of Broadway St., which will be closed between Crittendon and Western avenues.
There will be food vendors, and activities and pony rides for children. From 8 to 11:30 p.m., a Mexican band will play for dancing in the Sofia Quintero Center, 1225 Broadway St.
Proceeds will benefit the Organization of Latino Artists and three other groups.
Since the 1970s, he's been a key player in transforming a no-man's-land underneath the San Diego Bay Bridge that divided a Mexican neighborhood into the beloved and beautiful Chicano Park, a decades-long process that continues to evolve.
"Part of the goal is to make people happy," says Ricardo Quinonez, who teaches drawing at Owens Community College. "Through art, it's going to minimize crime, it's going to minimize drugs, and increase the consciousness of people so they'll take better care of the neighborhood."
Quinonez, who lives and paints in a garret-studio on Broadway, was teaching drawing at BGSU when he met Gordon Ricketts and Charlie Kanwischer, art faculty who conceived of the idea and found money to bring Torero to town in 2009, and again in spring, 2010, to talk to students and begin the first mural.
Torero's design for the first of three I-75 piers included five large faces: Mexicans Cesar Chavez, farm-worker activist; revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, and painter Frida Kahlo, along with late Toledoans of Mexican lineage who were community leaders, Aurora Gonzalez and Sofia Quintero. There's a migrant family, a United Farm Workers flag, and small images of Toledo landmarks.
With permission granted, Torero and team scraped peeling paint, power-washed, and primed the concrete pier. Next, the mural was outlined at night by projecting the design on the wall with a computer from across the street. The following day, painting began accompanied by the rumble of vehicles above and attaboy honks at street level.
Chad Watt, a graffiti painter, highlighted the sky, borders, and a boat using both aerosol and brushes. Quinonez, then teaching at BGSU, joined in as did Bob Garcia, retired art teacher from Toledo Public Schools. Joe Balderas, head of the Sofia Quintero Center, offered lunches and storage space for materials.
In 10 days, it was done, a gateway to the Old South End, home to poor Mexican-Americans, blacks, and whites and a drive-through zone for thousands of others. Participants hoped it would spark positive change. Price tag: $11,000 for paint, supplies, and Torero.
"...you and your helpers turned an old, invisible, boring underpass into the most talked about creation in my neighborhood. I want to thank you so much for doing this for our community and just making the south end of Toledo beautiful again," wrote a 15-year-old girl to Ricketts.
Ricketts directs the Arts Village dormitory at BGSU. For years, he's brought students to the Sofia Quintero Center to build artistic altars for the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration in October. Putting young adults in different cultures than their own, that embrace different artistic parameters, would broaden them, he knew.
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"I love the art but I'm not Latino," he said. Street murals would be even more expansive for budding artists. "Our intention was to cultivate a relationship between this community and the arts. We figured we'll try it out and if it works, we'll continue."
Ricketts grew up in San Diego, where he met Torero. Last summer, he organized a two-week mural-painting class and led by Torero, the 15 students painted two I-75 concrete piers adjacent to the first. What may be the best mural of the three can't be seen from the street; it's on the back of a pier so must be viewed from the parking lot off Broadway.
In 2012, another 15 students enrolled in the class, again led by Torero, and three community leaders obtained permission from several owners of buildings for murals. The results: flowers that suggest van Gogh; torsos of a conga-playing man with a face full of greens and yellows and a blue-haired woman; a traditional female dancer and an indigenous warrior; on the Providence Center, neighborhood faces of a skinny white man and a serious Native American woman, a caricature of Art Tatum at the keyboard, and a little boy with a giant sombrero.
Toledo's mural ordinance was rewritten about five years ago after outrage by many in the arts community at the city's painting over a huge downtown mural done by 10 skilled artists who'd had the blessing of the building's owner. Designs must be submitted to the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo and approved by the mayor's office and the plan commission, a process that takes only a few days, said Marc Folk, executive director of the commission.
This summer, Torero gave a thumbs-up to a rainbow-hued design by Chad Watt, aerosol painter. Using 40 cans of paint, Watt sprayed freehand on the side of a red-and-white building slated to become a Cuban restaurant.
"Mario said pick a wall and do what you want but keep with the theme," said Watt. He fashioned the ancient Egyptian goddess Maat and Spanish-inspired figures. After it was done, he added palm trees and blue sky at the building owner's request.
"It was overwhelming fun!" said Watt, who works second shift in a cookware factory. "I could go out and spray paint without having the law involved."
During the three and a half days he spent completing it, he chatted with pedestrians and pitched in on nearby murals.
Of the thousands of people who drive down Broadway, one pulled out his wallet.
Coming home late from work on a hot evening, John Heinl noticed the honk-if-you-like-it sign and several people painting an exterior wall of a former floral shop. He pulled over and struck up a conversation.
"I asked if they got paid and a young lady said they do it on their own. It just brightens up a community. It's like a flower garden," said Heinl, of Maumee. "I started talking to Ricardo and he said they struggled to get to this point. Normally I would have probably just dropped $10-$15. But as I kept driving down Broadway, I realized they are really doing something good for their community. And it just brightens my day going to work." Heinl donated $150.
Earlier this year, the Organization of Latino Artists formed at the Quintero Center, and at the suggestion of Quinonez, undertook its first project on a building at Broadway at Jervis Street.
Bob Garcia was taken by murals he'd noticed springing up in the Warehouse and UpTown areas. After a brainstorming session with some OLA members, he had an idea: the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl.
"I drew up the serpent and my contribution. It was going to be divided up. Somebody said let's blow up this image and do it big. It kept changing. It opened up to interested artists and children," he said, adding that he was wary of the art-by-committee approach.
Entering the serpent's tail at the far left are people trapped by life's travails. Human bodies flow through the serpent, reaching toward its head, flowers, and liberation. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared (with the help of paint), as did feathers, stick figures, a turtle, an "I Love You," and in the right-hand corner, a scrolled "contributors" box with 11 signatures. Over nine weeks, many hands had contributed; somehow, Garcia said, it worked. And with dinners at each other's homes and a few fund-raisers, camaraderie flourished among the 11 OLA members.
Assisting the OLA project were the city's neighborhoods department, the Quintero Center, La Galleria, and others. Nova Acrylic paint, the main expense, is top grade and designed to last longer than other paints. Most of the murals are given a final coat of varnish, which costs $150 for a five-gallon bucket. No murals have been defaced.
OLA's artists hope to collaborate with BGSU students and Torero next summer, and with other neighborhoods that want in on the mural scene.
"When we've got another gallon of paint, we can go on," said Ricketts.
Contact Tahree Lane at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6075.