Commons Fest held on Courthouse Square promotes redevelopment

A red heart, a slogan of hope. A picture of unity. Paint was being applied to numerous items that will be used to beautify homes and gardens around the city and it was being done on common ground in the heart of Warren on Saturday. The Commons Fest was bustling just after midday on Courthouse Square as members of the community gathered to visit the booths of various small businesses and nonprofit organizations, working toward positive redevelopment in Warren.

The effort was made possible with a donation from the Ralph E. and Esther K. Meacham Memorial Fund via the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.

It also helped to promote the Robins Theater Project, a grassroots effort to renovate the former Robins Theater on East Market Street.

Melissa Holmes, co-organizer of the Robins Project, said the Commons Fest isn’t just to promote the local organizations and businesses, but to provide an interactive activity for the community to complete with them.

“They can know about the organization but they can also participate. The intention is everything is interconnected. We have to work on other things throughout the city right now, which is what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Participants were given a map of “the Commons” and issued stamps for every booth they visited. They could then turn in their stamps for prizes, which included items such as flowers and plants, gifts and apparel. Holmes said the idea was to have age-appropriate items for everyone.

One of the activities available was the opportunity to leave a mark – in paint – on a door that will be erected in the Peace of Hope Community Garden on Mercer Street. It will be the garden’s ninth door, with the previous eight having been painted by local artists. This door, however, will be a community piece.

Other items splashed with color were pieces of slate shingles from a demolished home, as the Giving Tree Garden showed children the value of repurposing materials. Rocks were also provided as a free, creative outlet for fun.

An open mic was held for those who wanted to join in, and later in the afternoon members of the Studio L Dance Centre offered a performance.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Artisan Cafe, a new business on South Main Street in Warren, handed out free samples of ice cream.

“It promotes the local businesses. It brings out the community to see what’s out there. It lets people know Warren’s not dead,” said manager Sara Nutt.

Another small business, Lily Jars, was providing participants with cakes you can bake from a jar, from red velvet to pistachio, even cake balls. To wash it down, samples of lemonade with ginger ale and mint water with cucumber were served in the glass containers. The business was started by Warren native Tia Pearson.

Pearson’s cousin, China Walker, 19, was prepared for the costume contest as she stood by her cousin’s stand, taking in the sights. She called the portrayals of famous people from the 1920s her “brain child,” having first thought of the idea back in December.

But the Harding High School students – her former classmates, as she graduated last year – took it and ran with it, she said.

“They came up with all the games and stuff. It’s definitely a group thing. They took that idea and made it more than I could have imagined,” she said.

Christine DePascale, drama director for Harding and Lincoln schools, said the students were there to show their support of the Robins Theater Project as well as to promote their upcoming shows. The students each picked a 1920s character to portray, since that is the time period when the theater was in its heyday.

Everett Burd, 12, a student of Lincoln K-8, could be seen as Albert Einstein, telling people about his famous works and passing out fliers for the shows.

The YWCA was in attendance, as well, passing out pens and buttons in a stand against racism.

A new nonprofit organization for aspiring young poets and authors hopes to be open by the end of the year on the Square.

Ron Book said the organization will be mainly for high school and college kids, but will have an open-door policy for adults, as well.

“I want to get more of the young people involved in the writing process early on,” he said, and give them an environment where they can feel safe and comfortable expressing how they feel.

The Trumbull County African American Achievers Association was also seeking talented youths for next year’s festival.

Maryjoe Moore, talent coordinator, said she really wants to find someone unique. In particular, she is seeking youth jazz players, jazz bands and instrumentalists such as violin players.

“It’s all about the young people. I know it’s out there somewhere,” she said.

Those interested in trying out can contact Moore at