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Everyone knows the story of Robin Hood and Little John: two best friends who ban together to fight for equity, generosity and goodness. But that story is simply a legend, right?
Not necessarily. Enter Vince Liuzzo and Justin Miller, better known as the Tree Guys, or as they like to think of themselves, the Robin Hood and Little John of Jamestown. Not only do the pair resemble their heroic counterparts – Liuzzo is spry and clever with his tool of choice (a chainsaw, not a longbow), and Miller is larger-than-life and full of humor – but they also embody the characters’ charitable ideology. That is exactly why they decided to open a new arts and community center to give back to the city of Jamestown. That is also why they branded their center with a feathered cap and dubbed it the Sherwood Arts Complex, in honor of Robin Hood and Little John’s infamous stomping grounds, the Sherwood Forest.
The Sherwood Arts Complex, which is located inside the old Dahlstrom Manufacturing Co. Inc. building at 443 Buffalo St. in Jamestown, will have its grand opening this Saturday, Apr. 29, from noon until 6 p.m. The event will feature live bands and local art and also highlight some of the city’s charitable organizations. The open house is free, family-friendly, and open to the public. Liuzzo and Miller encourage people to attend not only to get a taste of Jamestown’s art and music scenes, but also to engage in a community-wide movement to revitalize Jamestown through involvement, neighborliness, and charity.
The Open House
The Sherwood Arts Complex will open its doors for the first time at noon this Saturday. From noon until 6 p.m., the building will be alive with the sounds of local musicians: Davis and Eng, Macklehat Merffy, Matt Maloof, Sara Rafaloski, and Butch Town. Each band will perform on the building’s large indoor stage and have access to the complex’s sound system, with production by Matt Mueller.
Art will also be on display around the complex, featuring artists from the Active Artists’ Alliance as well as Gary Peters, Steve Badgley, Justin Dombroski, and of course, Vince Liuzzo. Sherwood Arts has also teamed up with local businesses to provide refreshments and vendor stations, featuring Joe Z Café, Full Moon Rising Bakery, WilJen Woodworks, and the BioDome Project. Finally, there will be a plethora of charitable organizations attending the open house with information displays: the Food Bank of WNY, Chautauqua Striders, Infinity Visual and Performing Arts, St. Susan Center, Blue Star Mothers, Lakeview Cemetery, Kids and Cancer, and the American Field Service.
“The main goal of the open house is to introduce the public to both the space itself, the brick and mortar, and to our mission,” Liuzzo said. “When people realize this is a place that wants to give back to their community, I don’t think there’s any way they won’t support it. We want to form a real relationship with people in the community, find that avenue for outreach, and show off what Jamestown has to offer.”
Liuzzo and Miller have ambitious dreams for the Sherwood Arts Complex: they talk of hosting live outdoor concerts, creating a public outdoor art gallery, renting the space out for think-tank conferences, and much more. But behind every one of their ideas is a simple, common mission: #INC.
#INC is an acronym derived to represent the values of Sherwood Arts: involvement, neighborliness, and charity. These are the three values that Liuzzo and Miller want to impart upon the city of Jamestown, and they are the three values that drove the creation of the complex. Yet with #INC, Sherwood Arts becomes more than a building for arts and music – it becomes a movement.
“This goes beyond the art and music,” Liuzzo said. “Those are our ways to get people in the doors, but once they’re here, we have a greater mission to share: involvement, neighborliness, and charity. We want to take a proactive approach to making this community better.”
One of the ways through which Liuzzo and Miller hope to foster the #INC ideals is by partnering with area organizations with similar missions, such as the charities that will be present at Saturday’s open house.
“All of these groups already have reach, but if people can come to one place and discover that they exist, they will continue to grow,” Liuzzo said. “We want [the complex] to be a center for information and goodwill, too.”
Liuzzo and Miller also have plans to collaborate with the students from Jamestown Community College (JCC). They hope to provide real-world opportunities for JCC’s arts and music students, offering them art residencies or gallery space, a live venue to perform, or simply the opportunity to network with local professionals in their fields.
“Jamestown’s musicians are starving for a venue that isn’t a bar or a school auditorium,” Miller said. “This space can give them experience in a professional setting.”
“We’re presenting a platform where artists can actually turn their art into some kind of sustainable business,” Liuzzo added. “We can help get people paid and appreciated for their artwork, so it doesn’t just have to be a hobby.”
But the doors of Sherwood Arts Complex aren’t just open exclusively to students and professionals. Liuzzo and Miller are adamant that people of all ages, genders, races, religions, education levels, and social backgrounds are welcome at the center. In fact, they encourage at-risk community members to consider channeling disruptive energy into creative outlets at the Sherwood Arts Complex.
Already, Liuzzo and Miller have seen the power of creative outlets transform lives. After connecting with a young tattoo artist on Facebook, they offered him an arts residency at the complex. So far, the young man has been hugely productive – painting a mural inside the building, creating Sherwood Arts T-shirts, and even deciding to pursue his GED.
“His story embodies what we’re trying to accomplish,” Miller said. “He’s a young kid who had a rough life and no education. We told him, if we’re going to invest in you, you’re going to invest in yourself… We want to take someone like him and find constructive channels for them, strip the negative away.”
By reaching out to community organizations as well as individuals, Liuzzo and Miller hope to foster a contagious sort of involvement and goodwill. They hope that the values of #INC spread across Jamestown, jolting people out of passivity and indifference.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world right now where it’s hip to be rude, it’s hip to not care,” Miller said. “But opportunities to do good are out there; we want people to go find these opportunities, to open themselves to goodness. And when you help others around you and make them better, it is reciprocated, and you become better yourself.”
The inspiration for the Sherwood Arts Complex came from a myriad of places, but not least among them was Liuzzo and Miller’s other business, Tactical Tree Solutions. The venture, for which they became casually known as the Tree Guys, began four years ago as a means of tree service and removal. Yet Liuzzo – who has a résumé of dabbling in art – quickly found ways to turn a practical service into an act of creative expression. With his handiwork with a chainsaw, he began converting ugly tree stumps into intricate carvings.
“Anyone can grind up your stump and leave you with a muddy hole in your yard,” Miller said. “But only Vince can cut down your 70-foot pine tree and put an angel in it.”
The community’s response to the Tree Guys’ artsy shtick was overwhelmingly positive. Soon, the carvings evolved – Liuzzo was not only carving stumps, but mobile works of art that needed indoor housing. That’s how he and Miller came upon the Dahlstrom Manufacturing warehouse on Buffalo St.: a gargantuan building with windowed walls and wooden-brick floors that hadn’t been touched in nearly five years, when it was last used as a document and record management companfor IDS Virtual Depot.
“It’s one of the oldest buildings in the city of Jamestown,” Miller said. “It’s an old industrial building that would typically just be demolished, but we thought there was viable usage for this space.”
Liuzzo and Miller were inspired not only by the sheer size and possibility of the building but also by its history. According to Miller, the warehouse and its neighborhood used to be the epicenter of Jamestown’s music scene: think live concerts and the rise of the 10,000 Maniacs. As they considered the building’s musical past, their own artistic talents, and the building’s outreach potential in a relatively “bad” part of Jamestown, they began brainstorming how they could use it for something greater than storage space. They knew then that they wanted it to become an arts, music and community center that could help lift the surrounding neighborhood out of poverty, crime, and dilapidation.
“We couldn’t pass up the idea of using this space for something else,” Liuzzo said. “So we’ve just been working away this last year trying to get as many people on board to help.”
Liuzzo and Miller have been hard at work cleaning the complex, painting the walls, and building their #INC movement. In the process, they gathered a support team, including Debbi Yoakum, who now handles the complex’s events, media and sponsorships. Despite all the support, however, they say Sherwood Arts and its complex is a work in progress. They hope that this weekend’s open house will inspire the community to chip in and help finish the refurbishment. It is all part of a mission to save one of Jamestown’s historic buildings while also bringing a bit of beauty and opportunity to one of its rougher neighborhoods.
“We’d like this to kind of become the headquarters on this side of town, a real community center,” Liuzzo said. “We want to form unity in Jamestown.”
“We say we’re like Robin Hood and Little John – they robbed from the rich and gave to the poor,” Miller said. “Now, we don’t want to rob from anybody. We just want to convince the people who have the power to make a change that they should.”
Liuzzo and Miller are not naïve about the challenge that they’ve undertaken: creating a center for culture and community in the underbelly of Jamestown. Instead, much like Robin Hood and Little John, they are fiercely optimistic about their ability to create change.
“A lot of people say you have to work from the ground up,” Miller said. “That’s not our case. We go big – we work from the sky down. This train is moving now. So get out of the way or get on board, because this idea is rolling forward.”
For more information on the Sherwood Arts Complex, #INC, or this weekend’s open house, visit the Facebook page @SherwoodArtsComplex.