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Public art projects to be followed by music festival

First, 18 cement trashcans and eight planters were transformed from dull, gray cylinders to bright and creative works of art stretching along Main Street in East Toledo.

Next, Owens-Illinois employees volunteered with the East Toledo Family Center and the LeSo Gallery to paint and add color to benches and bus stops along the same corridor. The project was a partnership between LeSo Gallery, the East Toledo Family Center, the East Toledo Club, and volunteers from Owens-Illinois.

714mural1a 
 Adam Soboleski, Amber LeFever and Bradley Scherzer, with just a portion
of their creations along the Main/Starr corridor. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)

Last week, 19 murals were painted by nine artists, including local eighth-graders, at 813 Starr Ave. on a building that a year ago was a public eyesore. The final mural was completed at 5 p.m. on July 2, completing phase one of a public arts project led by LeSo and community leaders.

One mural, painted by LeSo Gallery co-owner Amber LeFever and another artist, depicts a portrait of the 18-month-old Elaina Steinfurth surrounded by a bed of roses.

Last December, Elaina’s mother, Angela Steinfurth, and Angela’s 24-year-old boyfriend, Steven King II, pled guilty for their roles in Elaina’s murder. That homicide attracted national media, casting a gray cloud over an East Toledo community already reeling from a bad image.

Elaina’s grandfather is a neighbor to the LeSo Gallery owners, who live above their business at Starr and Valleywood.

“It was our final piece to the 19 murals that we installed, so it’s kind of our grand finale,” LeFever said. “Being a community-based arts gallery, we really wanted to come up with an idea that was community engaging and meaningful to our neighborhood. So, Adam, the other co-owner of LeSo, thought of the idea.”

What’s next? LeSo and other Main-Starr corridor businesses are planning an entertainment and arts festival for Sept. 13, which will include two stages featuring live bands. Main Street will be blocked off between Front and Fourth streets.714TrashCanArtists

“It’s kind of a work in progress,” LeFever said. “The people at Frankie’s and Mainstreet Bar are on the music committee, so they will be working on the music aspect and up here at LeSo, we are working on the pop-up galleries. “Basically, pop-up galleries are when artists take on an underutilized base and turn it into a gallery, and it’s like never a gallery again. It is designed to bring light to those underutilized bases and hope that they are becoming utilized bases. Pop-up galleries have been around for a while. A few years ago, at a glass conference, which is where all the glass people came to Toledo, there were multiple pop-up galleries that came out of there,” LeFever continued.

Toledo District 3 Councilman Mike Craig handles permitting and leading fundraising efforts. He says the partnership has a long way to get the project off the ground, but he’s confident it will happen. He admits he can use any help he can get.

“I’ve raised about $10,000, but $12,000 pays for the infrastructure — the bandstands, the port-a-potties — all the stuff that you need,” Craig said. “That doesn’t pay for the talent. The talent is going to be $20,000 to $25,000 more.”


Public arts gaining momentum
Why all these public arts in an East Toledo community many suburban, rural, and even west side residents believe is the pit of Northwest Ohio?

Because the people involved want to change that.

“I feel like it’s taking off quicker than we thought it would, and it’s been project after project, and we’re thinking, ‘Wow, what are we going to do next?” LeFever said. “We’re working on the initial planning stages for the mural on First and Main and that’s going to be a pretty big project.

“Honestly, this neighborhood is everything to us. We live here, we work here, we want to be successful, we want our community positive and happy, and I feel like art is our trade, art is our talent, and that is the best way that we can make improvements,” she said.

It starts with art, but East Toledo Family Center community builder and One Voice for East Toledo leader Jodi Gross says it doesn’t have be just art. But, it’s makes for a good catalyst, she adds.

“It’s nice to see those visuals,” Gross said. “It does clean it up with the trash cans and the benches now — it just shows up. Does everything have to be art? I think no, but it adds color and I think just adds to the neighborhood.

“I think the important piece is that it needs to be unique to East Toledo and showing that things are being done and that everybody can work together to make this stuff happen. That’s probably one of the important things because it takes a lot of people and logistics to get these projects completed,” Gross continued.

Of course, one worry is the possibility vandals will come along and wreak havoc on the trash cans, which are not bolted down. They are, however, heavy, weighing about 300 pounds each when empty. Some are already damaged, too.

“It’s harder to notice now that it’s been painted, but a number of them have the top edges chipped and they are broken from people tipping them over,” Craig said. “I got the city to buy new liners because some of the liners were actually just store bought-trash cans inside there. They look much, much nicer.”

There’s another reason LeFever believes, or hopes, that the artwork will not get defaced — public pride.

“We really hope that doesn’t happen,” LeFever said. “I believe once you beautify things, people take pride in them. We’re just not going to stop some dumb kids from doing something silly.”

Also playing a role was the East Toledo Club, which provided funding for the supplies for the bench project. Roger Dodsworth, an assistant director at the Family Center, says the East Toledo Club has money to offer to other groups wishing to complete beautification projects on Main Street.

One Voice has also included arts and entertainment in its strategies for the neighborhoods, along with housing surveys it is currently conducting to inventory property conditions.

“We did play a little bit of a role,” Gross said. “Originally, some of the One Voice strategies included some arts pieces of that. Mike (Craig) was very instrumental in doing that — he’s the one who took the lead on that, but we had talked about those as our strategies.

“I think it’s great and I think it’s going to be very good for East Toledo. He’s already made some things happen. If he can keep progressing, I think it’s really nice that he’s working with LeSo,” Gross continued.

“I think we’re really trying to make a difference with these housing surveys, because people are seeing the volunteers that are out there on Saturday mornings. We’ve noticed that there are some places that are kind of cleaning up and doing some things that weren’t before, so we have to get to those folks. The renters, the landlords, all have to get together, especially if they have a vested interest in East Toledo.

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