I visited New York City last weekend and spent enough hours wandering through the boroughs that I began to compare it to our town. We are not New York and we know this. We are not New York and are yet happy for that. We are not New York, we are Mansfield, Ohio, and we are creating.
There are parts of New York City where each breath I drew was art. It was not merely a painted canvas, a vibrating string, or an astute analogy, but a sense of ecstatic freshness. The world as I knew it was new again, shimmering. I could feel my own creativity roiling just beneath the surface of my composure, and my mind, surprised with new agility. In the presence of others’ imaginations, mine ran giddy and wild. And the people standing around me, they were ready to experience everything I had to give, absorb my offerings and further the cycle of ideas.
In Mansfield, we artists breathe rust. We breathe poverty and establishment and someone else’s idea of what our town should be. When we experience the moment of collaborative elation, we have worked damn hard to get there. We work in factories and gas stations and chain retail stores where we lock our art in the break room and keep it to ourselves until we clock out. Art is not an employer, but not a hobby either — it is an unstoppable drive we have, the one that reminds us we’re alive, the one we must have to stay alive.
New York is overwhelming. It’s a constant barrage on your senses: graffiti, honking, ads, buskers, the foreign smells of a Chinatown market. Comparatively, Mansfield is an echo: empty factories, blank walls, parking lots. Tags painted over before they dry, abandoned homes erased, “no parking” everywhere. To create is to go against the tide. Mansfield’s artists roll up their pant legs and step in the water, feel the tug of skeptics against their shins and the nips of nepotism on their toes. It is not an option to remain dry.
New York is an aptly named city, for it is not the same city it was one-hundred years ago, fifty years ago, two decades ago. It has maintained a flexibility, which has allowed that the strengths of all who live there ensure the growth and regeneration of the city. Mansfield has floundered in part because it has the flexibility of an I-beam. We were once a city run by heavy industry and so forever on we are searching for more of the same to become as great as we once were. We will be that great; we will not look the same.
Our potential is something we’ve always had; our vision is a gift. The artists of Mansfield use what we have to create: concrete and rebar, glass, grease, track, asphalt, brick and mortar. We breathe this town. We draw from the alleyways and through-ways, the dive bars, the bowling alleys, the thrift stores, the parks, the farms and the hills around us. We are rich in experience and folklore and family and desire and determination. We can make this a place you want to live.
Free us up. Give us the opportunity to create and we will make you a city. A home. Give us a space to live and a room of our own to sing and dance in. We will sing to ourselves at first, and then louder — we want to share with you. Let us be the regeneration.