Toledo's creative community bubbles with passion, projects

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    From left, artists Chad Kupp and Matt Taylor stand with Art Cornerr Toledo founder Rachel Richardson in front of their downtown mural.

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  • Ryan Bunch, left and Matt Taylor, right two members of the city's burgeoning creative community, talk at the Attic on Adams downtown.
    Ryan Bunch, left and Matt Taylor, right two members of the city's burgeoning creative community, talk at the Attic on Adams downtown.

    Mr. Taylor and Mede (pronounced “meddy”) spent 60 hours over 18 hot days last summer painting the long side of a building at Adams and 13th streets.

    Their TOLEDO LOVES LOVE mural was an exercise in collaboration, point of view, and energetic optimism, and it’s one of many grass-roots undertakings by scores of 20 to 40-somethings fueled by a passion to create and invigorate.

    “We got to paint a 65-foot-wall!” enthuses Mr. Taylor (that’s his “brand.” His first name is Matt). “I didn’t think twice about not getting paid.”

    Collaboration was on many levels. The two artists worked out a design. The building’s owner, Manos Paschalis, gave permission; the Arts Commission swiftly obtained permission from the city, and Arts Supply Depo, where the men purchased the paint, put out a collection jar for the project.

    The mural was organized by Rachel Richardson, who so believes that culture and art will invigorate community that she started Art Corner Toledo (ACT) in 2010, a nonprofit to promote this town as a place where artists and activists can realize positive change. The Love mural is ACT’s second project. Richardson, 35, conceived of it as a shout-out to gay marriage on the day her best friend, a woman, married another woman. She and the artists raised $1,500, most of which paid for supplies.

    Before it was done, scores of people had come by to watch the progress and to chat. Mr. Taylor, 28, left his signature on the chimney top; Mede, 36, hid his in the busy swirls and angles. (His real name is Chad Kupp.)

    Moreover, process became product with a spin off: a cool time-lapsed video showing the mural start-to-finish ( Adding to its local flavor, the background music is two original pieces performed by area musicians including Richardson.

    Then there was the art-begets-art phenomenon that often occurs: the mysterious Yarn Bomber struck, knitting a long rainbow-colored cozy for a rusting L-shaped, 16-foot-tall signpost near the mural.

    Changing art scene

    Cuban-born Arturo Rodriguez, 40, came to Toledo 11 years ago to teach art at the University of Toledo. He’s taken students downtown to paint two murals with wheat paste, a temporary medium. He’s seen the arts scene change.

    “Immensely. Across the board,” he said, noting that on just one weekend last month, there were five artist receptions at galleries for shows opening around town.

    Adding to the mix are many events organized the the Arts Commission over the last six years, business owners who have a vested interest in downtown’s health, and the Toledo Museum of Art’s increased focus on young people and education.

    “There’s a lot of synergy that was missing when I first came. People are working together more,” Rodriguez said.

    Kimberly Adams, 31, originally from eastern Ohio, moved here from Tampa in June, 2011.

    “I jumped right in,” said the painter who graduated from Bowling Green State University. “The creative community is really the heart of Toledo. We see that change needs to happen and know what to do to make it happen ... We are activating spaces that haven’t been utilized in quite some time, creating a once-stagnant city into a vibrant community. ... We collaborate, we listen, and we make things happen in the city that we love.”

    From left, artists Chad Kupp and Matt Taylor stand with Art Cornerr Toledo founder Rachel Richardson in front of their downtown mural.
    From left, artists Chad Kupp and Matt Taylor stand with Art Cornerr Toledo founder Rachel Richardson in front of their downtown mural.


    She organized a quarterly networking event for creatives, called PechaKucha (pronounced pa-CHECK-a-cha, it means chit-chat in Japanese). Participants can explain their goals while showing 20 slides, each for 20 seconds. More than 100 attended September’s PechaKucha ( in the museum’s Glass Pavilion.

    An art-framer by day, Adams plans to establish a nonprofit that would bring high-calibre artists to town for residencies, providing them with housing and space in which to create and exhibit their work for a limited period of time.

    “I find there are a lot of people in our community that want to see change, but [many] don’t know what to do.”

    Adams serves on the board of the new Launch Pad Cooperative, a mixed-purpose gallery in the Davis Building, 911 Jefferson Ave., conceived of by Timothy Gaewsky, 34. He came to Toledo from Detroit four years ago to work as an art handler at the museum. This year, he invited people via social networking sites to meet and discuss his idea for a co-op gallery, and an online Kickstarter campaign raised $6,500 in a month for start-up costs.

    “I’ve seen a dramatic surge in the creative community within the last year or so,” said Gaewsky, who makes installations with videos and paintings. Launch Pad will also host artist talks and panels, writers’ nights, and provide business experience for artists.

    Never enough time

    He, like many of the ambitious young creatives, are not only squeezed for money, but time.

    “Most of us have full-time jobs so we’re doing this on our free time because we have passion and drive to make things happen, but we’re not getting paid for them yet.”

    Added Richardson: “We all have so many irons in the fire.”

    One of Jenn Stucker’s ideas resulted in the innovative You Are Here “dots” created by 100 artists and affixed to sidewalks in 100 places throughout town this summer. The dots, three-feet in diameter, had an image and explained a bit of history or location, and contained a QR code that allowed smart-phone users to learn more about the site and the artist.

    An assistant professor of graphic design at BGSU, Stucker, 40, also developed the Urban Forest Project Toledo in 2010 (50 artists designed 50 banners in honor of Earth Day’s 40 anniversary), that were hung on downtown light poles and later made into tote bags. And in 2007, she cofounded AIGA Toledo, the professional association for design. She’s noticed an uptick in artistic connectivity.

    “ ‘Bloom where you are planted.’ I’m seeing it more and more,” she said. She suggests a dedicated art-and-design resource center downtown to house studios, a gallery, a library, and events.

    Circle 2445

    Recognizing the need to cultivate the next generation of supporters, the museum is re-invigorating its young professionals’ group, renamed Circle 2445 (24 to 45 is the target age group as well as the museum’s address on Monroe Street).

    “Toledo’s ‘institutional’ art scene is amazing,” said Amir Khan, 31, owner of Black Swan Interactive, a media consultant/Web developer. He co-chairs Circle 2445 with Dustin Hostetler, artist/curator and co-owner of the popular Grumpy’s Deli.

    In any city, a concentration of restaurants and street-level culture where folks who love art, music, design, film, and fashion can overlap, has long been known to be a necessary element of a flourishing scene.

    Toledo has a couple of bright spots: a few blocks on and near Adams between about 14th and 18th streets called Uptown, and a stretch on downtown’s southern edge known as the Warehouse District. And as is happening across the country, more people — estimated at a few thousand — are residing in downtown lofts, condos, and apartment buildings than have in decades.

    Gathering places for the young demographic include the Art Supply Depo (including its “drink and draw” evenings), The Attic on Adams (above Manos restaurant), Ottawa Tavern, Manhattan’s, Wesley’s, and Bozarts Fine Art & Music Gallery at 151 S. St. Clair St.

    Many a Friday night, Bozarts, facing the Toledo Farmers’ Market, has an art car parked in front, decorated with strands of mini-lights, tiki torches afire, and a steady flow of people jockeying for parking spaces.

    “It’s almost like a hidden gem,” said John Byers (aka 60WATTFUNNEL). His recent exhibit of paintings and collages opened there with a live-music party, and he sold 17 pieces.

    Artist advocate

    Bozarts is a low building circa 1910, emblazoned outside with graffiti-style art and inside with white walls and paint-splattered wooden floors. It’s the successful undertaking of artist/curator/bartender Jerry Gray, who works and lives there. In the last three years, he’s held 45 to 50 shows ranging from one-night to one-month long, most featuring young artists who have scant options to show their work.

    “There wasn’t any place that promoted exhibitions for local artists on a regular basis,” Gray, 35, explained. “It’s been really well-received, in some ways, beyond my expectations.”

    “Ten years ago, a lot of people were trash-talking Toledo and downtown. That’s a big thing that’s changed,” he said, pointing to downtown residences and the nearby art-friendly Old West End.

    But communities don’t grow without seeds being planted and nurtured.

    In March, 2007, city leaders and the Arts Commission announced Live Work Create Toledo, an ambitious program that aimed to increase the marketability of local artists and to bring an additional 30 artists a year to town. It didn’t lure many artists, but it did increase the profile of young artists and the Warehouse and Uptown districts, through a series of popular events — Thursday Art Walks, Gallery Loops, business classes for artists, providing busking licenses street performers, and perhaps most of all, the ever-growing Artomatic 419!, a nonjuried show held over three Saturdays in April every other year in a huge unused or under-used building (

    The fourth Artomatic 419! in 2011 included 450 visual, performing, and literary artists, attracting about 10,000 visitors of all ages. And 2013’s Artomatic, to be held in the former Metropolitan Distributing Co. building on North Summit Street, promises to be even better, having just received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

    New studios, galleries

    Arts energy and economic impact reached a high point in June when the international Glass Arts Society drew nearly 1,000 out-of-towners to its annual conference downtown and at the museum.

    Another positive is the number of art studios downtown have doubled from 30 to 65 since 2007, and 10 new galleries have opened, said Marc Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission.

    “There’s a deeper understanding and willingness to engage [with art],” said Folk.

    The biggest challenge facing this sunny state of affairs is uncomplicated but very difficult: drawing more people, particularly those not connected to the arts, to events, and more partnerships with businesses and institutions. In short: more customers.

    “Residents of Toledo really don’t know what they have. If they don’t support it, they run the risk of losing it,” said Kimberly Adams.

    Contact Tahree Lane at