Junction art space is a good vision

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    A vacant lot on the southeast corner of Nebraska and Junction avenues near St. Anthony Catholic Church.

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  • The former St. Anthony Church at Nebraska and Junction avenues was saved from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo’s wrecking ball with no clear end use in mind — just with the laudable goal to preserve a noted structure in the city’s history.

    Now, a possible new purpose for the structure is revealing itself in the city’s plan to convert a nearby corner lot into a public performance space.

    RELATED: Blighted Junction Park to become outdoor performance space

    A grant of $30,000 in private funds from the National Recreation and Park Association will help pay to build an open-air amphitheater at the intersection, catty-corner from the imposing former Catholic church. The main collaborators are the city of Toledo and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.

    Neighborhood volunteers with the Junction Coalition, the Frederick Douglass Center, and Soul City Boxing will partner with the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, the City of Toledo, the Design Center, and The Collaborative to provide the labor and professional in-kind services to match the federal grant.

    It happens there’s already a park there, with planter boxes that look neglected. The corner has been described, accurately, as blighted. That means that a previously well-intended group tried to make this piece of urban real estate a neighborhood showcase and the flame died out.

    A future use of the former St. Anthony Church must be decided and infused by the community. The Land Bank is only the steward of the building for the benefit of the city and the community. Citizens, including the Junction Coalition, must step up. The Junction Coalition is a tax-exempt organization with a board of directors and a director, Alicia Smith.

    Ms. Smith’s vision for St. Anthony’s is as a satellite center for the arts, for creativity, display, and learning, perhaps associated with the University of Toledo, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, a place to give neighborhood youth a chance to explore and express their culture.

    She said that would put Toledo in the same league as some other great cities that have sought to tap the entertainment, cultural, and artistic energies of African-American neighborhoods.

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    The Arts Commission is already active with outreach programs in this neighborhood. Spokesman Ryan Bunch says other cities have seen churches repurposed into community arts and culture venues. He said the Junction neighborhood has a need for indoor and outdoor gathering space.

    If the former St. Anthony Church and the Junction-Nebraska neighborhood are going to have a great outcome, it’s going to have to be an organic, welling-up from the community itself in partnership with the greater community of Toledo. There’s a great deal of potential energy. What Junction needs now is kinetic energy.

    The grant to establish an amphitheater is a gesture of support that creates momentum in the neighborhood. Let’s use the amphitheater after it’s built, and then follow up by repurposing St. Anthony Church as an arts and culture facility.