The heARTbeat of a community

. February 4, 2013.

Creative expression is an outlet for youth to convey their feelings. The Community HeARTbeats program, along with Human Values For Transformative Action, presents Listen Toledo!, a traveling exhibit first presented at the Wayman Palmer Community Center in Toledo.
HVTA was launched in 2003 by Lorna Gonsalves to allow children and teens to address issues that were important to them. Specific issues that stood out to Gonsalves, both in the U.S. and abroad, were related to justice and equality. HVTA’s main goal was to mobilize and inspire marginalized peoples (mainly youth) to use various forms of creativity to bring those values into their neighborhoods.

Behind the scenes
As an instructor of Ethnic Studies at Bowling Green State University, Gonsalves encountered students with troubles articulating their insights about racism. After allowing her students to communicate with their creativity, Gonsalves found the results “honest, revealing and inspiring.” She was called in to work with Toledo youth shortly after the notorious 2005 Neo-Nazi rally in North Toledo. “Youth were hurt, angry and confused,” said Gonsalves. “After exploring their feelings through individual works of art, they participated in a collective effort to inform and guide a mural that would represent their visions for the future,” she said. As the word spread throughout the community other groups approached Gonsalves, expressing their desire to participate, and the Community HeARTbeats program was born.
“All murals have been inspired and guided by youth, mostly from Toledo’s urban areas,” said Gonsalves.  Professional artists offered a guiding hand to bring the themes and imagery of the murals to life. While some professional artists have rendered the murals and painted them, Toledo’s youth have been actively involved in the presentation and even painted portions of the murals themselves.

Powerful messages
The murals have grabbed the attention of area art enthusiasts, while the youth have feelings of ownership and pride in their work, which provide powerful messages of hope and renewal. “Viewers speak about how the murals debunk the common perceptions of urban youth as troublemakers, who care little for their communities. When youth articulate and share their messages, they feel accountable for rebuilding their neighborhoods,” said Gonsalves.
The Listen Toledo! Exhibit is eager to travel throughout Toledo. Only having shown at WPCC, Gonsalves hopes it will remain active in the community for years to come. Currently, the exhibit is seeking large spaces including school cafeterias, worship halls and business lobbies to house Listen Toledo!