Cultural Activist, Community Organizer, Musician, Writer
Art Corner Toledo (ACT), Neighborworks Toledo Region
Rachel Richardson is the definition of a Toledo ambassador. Always willing to greet a first-time visitor to Toledo, she'll make sure you feel welcomed and equipped to experience the city. And she knows a thing or two about walls. Rachel is the founder of Art Corner Toledo, helping coordinate two completed public murals with many more on the way. She graciously accepted our invitation to spread the Toledo love.
Tell us more about some of your past projects?
I've been a singer my whole life and started playing music professionally in 1997. In 2008, I learned how to play the guitar so I could play folk music and solo stuff along with the jazz I learned from the greats like Leon Cook and Claude Black.
In 2007, I co-founded non-profit agency, Independent Advocates, with my best friend, Rebecca Facey. IA provided comprehensive court advocacy for survivors of Domestic Violence and publishes a yearly Courtwatch Report to inform the community of how DV cases are handled in Toledo Municipal Court.
In 2010, I founded Art Corner Toledo (ACT) to promote Toledo as a city full of artists and activists by creating works of public art to depict local brands of activism and how we work to improve our “corner” of the world. To date, ACT has coordinated 2 completed murals. Its first project was in Manos Garden which is a partnership between artist, Har Simrit Singh, and urban agriculture agency, Toledo GROWS.
The second ACT project is the TOLEDO LOVES LOVE mural at 13th and Adams Streets in UpTown Toledo. Also known as “The Love Wall” this was a partnership between artists, MEDE and Mr. Taylor, and Human Rights Campaign and Toledo Pride. The message is up for interpretation because who doesn't love love.... but, when asked, I explain that TOLEDO LOVES LOVE is ACT's stance on Marriage Equality.
ACT has published about 25 columns in the Toledo Free Press STAR. These columns discuss Toledo's creative potential and make pleas to get on board with the creative revolution.
What current projects are you working on?
I'm coordinating about one million murals and other public art all over the place through Art Corner Toledo (ACT) and Neighborworks Toledo Region. Also, a Youth Council in the Cherry Street Legacy Area at Grace Community Center to provide cultural education and experiences to kids living in the neighborhood. Also, serving on the Scott High School Community Hub team and facilitating a partnership between the Hub and the Toledo Museum of Art highlighting careers within the Museum. Also, serving on the Advisory Board for WXTS 88.3. Probably some other stuff too.
What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?
I have to use a quote to illustrate my idea here: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I've had this on my fridge since my very first apartment when I was 21.
In other words, “Toledo provides.”
Tell us about one of your greatest successes.
The Love Wall is pretty major and I don't think it's over yet for that one. It continues to get media coverage and the time lapse video has been shared worldwide by street artists via social media. This fulfills ACT's mission to promote Toledo as a city full of world changers. The next part of this is that it will ultimately result in a creative brain gain when we have a population surge and an economic upswing due to the creative industry being recognized as a job creator. Every time I see a new hipster on Adams Street, or I meet someone who left Toledo in the 90s because there “was nothing going on” who has recently moved back, I consider the creative revolution a success. The Love Wall is a little bit of physical evidence of that.
Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?
I go to the Art Museum once a week or so to contemplate the deliberateness and necessity of art. I like the feeling of being among objects and a building that were here long before me. Every time I visit, I fill out a comment card telling the Museum how much I love it and making my regular plea that we somehow arrange to acquire a Marc Chagall piece. I'm inspired by the idea that things like that work in Toledo. It's one thing to be a regular at Pam's Corner and have Steve know that I don't like ice in my water. What's so different about being a regular at the art museum and being the girl who really wants to be in the same room with a Chagall? That is such a romantic notion to me.
I also get pretty high on synchronicities and coincidences, and use them to fuel my imagination about just how purposeful everything is.
Traveling to other cities is powerful too. Gathering information about how this creative revolution is happening all over the country gets me super excited and coming home and seeing the skyline for the first time after being away sets my TOLEDOLOVE soaring.
And, most importantly, I say hello to every single yarnbomb I see....hugging them whenever possible.
Tell us about your background:
I was an Old West End-born kid who's dad took her to Thackeray's Books and Boogie Records every Saturday. We saw tons of shows at the Westgate Dinner Theatre and ate at the Original Barry's (where they actually baked bagels). My family knew that the best steak was at Ahmed's and the best rye bread was at Siegel's. I was raised to seek out experiences that you could only have in Toledo. I've had jobs in places that are uniquely local and that have shaped my career and life in ways I didn't know until now like, Sufficient Grounds, Rusty's Jazz Cafe, The Toledo Jazz Society, David's House Compassion, Inc., The Center for Choice II, Culture Clash Records, The Valentine Theatre and the couple of businesses/ non-profits that I've founded or co-founded. I've played music at Murphy's Place, The Village Idiot, Manhattan's, Glass City Cafe, every bar on Adams Street at some point, and on street corners in UpTown and the Warehouse District during The Arts Commission's Artwalks. The Universe is unfolding in such a way that my life is the quintessential Toledo existence.
Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?
"If you love Toledo, it will love you back."
Favorite place for local culture?
Somewhere between The Arts Commission's Artomatic 419!, The Mix Party, and Wesleys' patio on a Friday night in early July.
Toledo’s “best kept secret” is…
That downtown is walkable and “parking” is a stupid reason to not do something.
My favorite place to chill locally is…
The Love Wall.
My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is…
Toledo Botanical Garden, Wildwood Metropark, Agnes Reynolds Jackson Memorial Arboretum.
When I’m not working hard, I can be found…
In my apartment nesting, listening to music, trying to learn how to cook, harassing my friends on Facebook, and waiting for Spring so I can go outside and not have to wear tights, long johns and 7 shirts.
If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people…
I would ensure that we were all making an actual living as full time artists.
Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?
The Development Specialist at Neighborworks Toledo Region, Bob Krompak, called me one day last June and said, “Rachel, can you help me find someone who loves Toledo as much as you do and wants to use art and culture as tools to knit neighborhoods together and address blight and poverty?” Needless to say, I quit the job I had at the time and Bob and I have been working together ever since. I am thrilled and very excited to see what we accomplish together.
I'm also really pleased to be working closely with Lourdes Santiago from the Department of Neighborhoods, leaders in the arts community and Mayor Bell's Office on the Future of Toledo Initiative that has taken a focused approach to revitalization and recognizes that the arts play a crucial part in that. I am very hopeful that this work will make a large impact on what artists are able to accomplish with support from the Administration.
Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.
Singer/ Songwriter Anais Mitchell. I have big plans for us.
Name a book you can’t live without.
Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews.
Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan
Young Man in America - Anais Mitchell
Not a Pretty Girl - Ani Difranco
Mama's Gun – Erykah Badu
Thriller – Michael Jackson
My biggest vice is…
Reading a ridiculous amount of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly horoscopes. Like... a RIDICULOUS AMOUNT.
I'd like to see _________________ in Toledo.
I’d like to see a hostel in Toledo, particularly for touring musicians and creative travelers.
What’s the last dream you recall having?
It's not my most recent, but it sure was vivid and prophetic and metaphorical. I was in an enormous house and was wandering from room to room and encountering local artists in each one painting the walls in their own work. I had this dream about a year before I started coordinating murals.
The last lyric that moved me was…
“Wrap your head with this material.” -Erykah Badu
I'm pretty sure she's talking about wrapping her hair but I think that it's a really cool way to say, “Think about this.”
One movie character I identify with is…
The best gift I’ve ever received was…
Two Fender guitars from my friend, Sean Morrissey. Also, Rebecca Facey got me a Team Toledo jacket for my birthday a few years ago.
My most inspiring moment was…
Riding through the Old West End in the King Wamba Parade as Queen Sancha. Twice. :)
Also, driving down Adams Street any morning.
*Profile photo courtesy of W. Gene Powell.Back to All Creative Natives