Reflection of Blythe-Oldfield history

Mural part of revitalization effort in community

By BRIAN GRAVES brian.graves@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 6/10/17

It has been over 50 years ago since President John F. Kennedy spoke of the influence arts plays in society.

“The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life …

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Reflection of Blythe-Oldfield history

Mural part of revitalization effort in community

Dustin Tommey, executive director of Impact Cleveland, is dwarfed by the new wall mural located in the Blythe-Oldfield community at the intersection of 9th Street and Wildwood Avenue.
Dustin Tommey, executive director of Impact Cleveland, is dwarfed by the new wall mural located in the Blythe-Oldfield community at the intersection of 9th Street and Wildwood Avenue.
Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES
Posted

It has been over 50 years ago since President John F. Kennedy spoke of the influence arts plays in society.

“The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose ... and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization,” Kennedy told LOOK Magazine.

Seizing that spirit and idea, a new wall mural is taking shape in a Cleveland neighborhood which is undergoing a valiant attempt to reclaim its purpose and affirm its quality.

Located at the intersection of 9th Street and Wildwood Avenue, the new painting dominates one of the major intersections of the Blythe-Oldfield community.

“We wanted to incorporate art into the revitalization process of Blythe-Oldfield and Southeast Cleveland,” said Dustin Toomey, executive director of Impact Cleveland. “This location is really a gateway and a key intersection of the neighborhood. We wanted to do something here that represented the history of the neighborhood and the character of the neighborhood.”

The image is an artistic interpretation of an archival photograph from the Museum Center at Five Points collection.

“The gentleman in the picture was a worker at Hardwick Stove in the early 1900s,” Tommey said. “This is him working in the factory. The Museum graciously allowed us to use the image.”

Tommey said the artist is Kevin Bate, who was also responsible for the “Fallen Five” mural in Chattanooga in memory of the military personnel killed during the terrorist shootings in 2015.

“He is really an outstanding artist and one of Chattanooga’s best mural artists,” he said.

Tommey noted the mural is not yet fully completed.

“The squares around the periphery will still be completed and include words — words that kind of describe this gentleman like ‘grit’ and ‘determination’ and ‘courage’ and ‘hard work,’” he said. “There will be words of inspiration and hope.”

“The point is we want this image to reflect the history of the neighborhood in that this guy probably worked and lived here and lived a hard life, but it’s inspiring in a sense,” Tommey said. “This neighborhood really built Cleveland. This neighborhood was built around these factories.”

He said the image not only reflects history, but gives hope for the future.

“It’s an inspiring community in there is a lot of character here and a strong will to thrive,” Tommey said. “We are trying to be a catalyst here for positive change. We hope this can be one of those landmarks of change.”

He said the reaction has been “really positive.”

“People are asking, ‘Who’s that?’ There is definitely some mystery behind it. It’s art and it spurs the imagination,” Tommey said.

He said there are plans for more art.

“We are a very small piece of the puzzle,” Tommey said. “There is already some great artwork with the Back Alley Gallery and the mural at the Museum Center.”

“We would like to do more art in Blythe-Oldfield and Southeast Cleveland in key locations like this that can be inspiring and reflect the history of the neighborhood,” he said. “We envision doing that at places like this intersection, especially on buildings that are either vacant, abandoned or underutilized.”

He said these points of art can spark economic interest.

“When they see that cool things like this are going on, it has the effect of sparking investment,” he said.

Tommey said he does not want to lead revitalization efforts with art.

“It needs to be led by resident input and art can enhance that,” he said. “But some communities around the country can lead those efforts in a bad direction because when art is the primary driver of revitalization, it causes gentrification and that is something we don’t want here.”

Tommey said there is a sense in Blythe-Oldfield that “we’ve been forgotten or overlooked or not as good as.”

“We want to revitalize this community and have the residents who live here and have lived here be the drivers of that change. If arts are part of that, we want to do art,” Tommey said.

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