Students begin grassroots initiative to bring music, unity to downtown Steubenville




harmoniumWhat would bring hundreds of students to the downtown Steubenville, Oh., area, sparking economic and cultural revitalization?

Students Marc Barnes and Joseph Antoniello asked themselves this question after living in Steubenville over the summer. Their months in the area made them keenly aware of the gap between the wealth that exists on campus and the poverty that is expressed in the downtown area.

 “Music seemed like the most obvious answer,” said Barnes.

Thus the inspiration for the Harmonium Project came to Barnes, well-known blogger of Bad Catholic, and Antoniello, president of Franciscan’s Students for a Fair Society.

The Harmonium Project seeks to bridge the gap between Franciscan’s campus and the downtown Steubenville area. The project strives to bring economic and cultural revitalization to the downtown area by creating a fun, concert venue for students to attend and by offering free music lessons for youth in the area.

Some of the biggest obstacles in the downtown area are gang violence, drug activity and crime. The Harmonium Project’s after-school music program will offer youth a safe, creative environment away from the temptations of drug culture and crime.

“The ultimate goal is to integrate the student body with the downtown, to have them understand that Steubenville is their home,” Barnes said. “There is a mentality that the downtown is a scary place. We want to inspire a paradigm shift in the student body, from understanding the downtown area from mission territory to understanding it as their home.”

The name behind the Harmonium Project invokes both the concept of musical harmony and the harmony that is being created between Franciscan University and the town of Steubenville.

The building that they are renting for the project is called Odd Fellows, and Barnes found the venue by walking down Fourth St. over the summer. The building’s owner offered to lease it to Barnes and Antoniello for just $1 a month.

Only after they started renting did they realize that the building has a huge ballroom, perfect for a music venue. The building fits around 250-300 people, and already has an elevated stage area. Renovations are currently underway and should be completed in the next few weeks.

Barnes and Antoniello decided to keep the name Odd Fellows for the building because it is a name with which locals are familiar.

“This is all part of what we are trying to do in this integration process,” Barnes said. “We want to always strive to keep the culture people have so that we are not disrupting it with our own.”

When asked which bands or singers would perform at Odd Fellows, Barnes revealed that Audrey Assad has already been booked for Sept. 29. A large turnout from Franciscan University students is expected, so this concert will be held at Fort Steuben, an outdoor venue.

There are plenty of ways for interested students to get involved with the Harmonium Project. If students have unused drum kits, guitars or keyboards lying around, donating them would be extremely helpful to the cause.

Students can also get involved by volunteering their musical talent and teaching children any musical instrument that they know.

“Many of these kids come from broken homes, and need good, solid relationships and role models in their lives,” Barnes said. “We want kids to build relationships with students from Franciscan University, who can affirm them through music.”

The Harmonium Project is working with the student body to help them invest themselves in the downtown area. Barnes recognizes that this initial process will be difficult. “We are fighting against the status quo,” he said.

“It’s not just a nice idea to have revitalization in the downtown area. It is our moral obligation to be present where we live, to build relationships where we live,” Barnes said. “It’s not okay to ignore a community that needs us.”

Barnes encourages students to see this moral obligation and overcome the apathy that we often hold toward lifestyle changes.

“Instead of going to McDonald’s when you are hungry, go to Steve’s Fish and Chips, a great downtown restaurant,” he said. “It takes a certain will to see the community thrive. It’s true, there’s not much there, and it can be a scary place, but as Christians, we are called to love and serve where we live.”

He said, “It only takes five minutes downtown to see a work of mercy demanded of you. It’s immediate and it’s right on our doorstep. If we want to proclaim the teachings of the Catholic Church as good and true and beautiful, we need to be willing to see these things and act on them.”

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