By Zach Mosca
Ever since the old State Theatre was demolished in 2008, a major hole was left in downtown Youngstown. Local artist and owner of Steeltown Studios, Bob Barko Jr., decided to create a mural on Federal Street honoring the State Theatre.
Barko teamed up with organizations such as Youngstown CityScape, Leadership Mahoning Valley and Strollo Architects for the project, known as the “State Theatre Block Project.” He said this project will consist of two parts.
“The first part, which is nearly completed, is a mural on the old State Theatre facade … which depicts an idealized version of the grand entrance of the State Theatre as it appeared back in the ’20s,” Barko said.
The second part will address what Barko described as a “missing tooth” in the cityscape as a result of the 2008 State Theatre demolition.
“There’s currently about a 6-foot fence that blocks that area off from the street. We’re going to replace it with a 10-foot fence and install a 10×42-foot weather resistant banner which depicts my ‘Here in Youngstown’ mural,” Barko said.
Barko is not alone in this endeavor, thanks to the help of many sponsors donating toward the production costs of the mural.
Sharon Leston, executive director for Youngstown CityScape, said this project began merely as a mural depicting the history of Youngstown, but during production it became much more, blossoming into a mural for the State Theatre.
Leston also said she is grateful to be a part of this project and engage with the community while sharing Youngstown’s history.
“For most big projects, it takes a lot of partnerships and a lot of input, and we’re just excited to be a part of all of that along with the artists and property owners of our downtown community,” Leston said.
Kim Calvert, vice president of Marketing and Members Services at the Youngstown Regional Chamber, as well as a member of Leadership Mahoning Valley’s class of 2007, said Leadership Mahoning Valley’s involvement came from Barko being a part of the organization’s class of 2020.
“Leadership Mahoning Valley is a 10-month leadership training program … and each year there is a new ‘class’ of participants, and as part of their curriculum they choose a class project that they’d like to tackle together,” Calvert said.
Barko wanted to create this mural as the class project, and it became a reality. Calvert said this project was among a few others that Leadership Mahoning Valley worked on this year. Calvert also explained the organization often leaves the creation of the projects up to the class.
“The point of the class project is that the executive director of Leadership Mahoning Valley will facilitate but doesn’t really step in. The class project truly belongs to the class,” Calvert said.
Barko has been providing Youngstown with art for decades. He said he is grateful for everyone who’s supported him and wants to repay the community for supporting his art over the years.
“Previous to [this project] there was this old beat-up barricade that people probably just rushed by, but now there’s something there to draw their eye and see this old beautiful facade that’s almost 100 years old,” Barko said.