Randy Gilson’s love affair with the Northside began 35 years ago when he first moved into the neighborhood.  He saw it as a diamond in the rough and on his own hard-earned dime as a waiter, started a personal mission to coax the beauty out of its rugged corners. He picked up litter and planted mini gardens. Took $1000 out of his own savings and bought whiskey barrels so he could put plants and shrubbery in front of empty houses.

In 1995, Randy bought his home on Arch St. for $10,000 on a credit card and started his life’s work. With recycled paint and found materials, he transformed the building into a large mixed media canvas that continues to evolve after almost two decades. The now iconic building—dubbed Randyland by a friend one day and so named ever since—has become the Northside’s neighborhood gem and our City’s most loved grassroots attraction.

Randy has built and maintained Randyland on a minimal budget but over 35 years, has spent $100,000 of his own funds to maintain the landmark. Now one of the main sections of the façade—a mixed media map of the Northside—needs to be restored and Randy is asking for help. He has launched a Kickstarter campaign to “completely reimagine the map to make it more colorful, expansive and durable to withstand time and weather.” The map will be expanded to include North neighborhoods such as Manchester, Fineview, Deutschtown and Observatory Hill. The streets and landmarks such as the Aviary, the New Hazlett Theater and others will be renewed with more durable materials and intricate design.

Randy explains the impetus for the call for help. “Over the years, the map has been beaten down by the weather.  We’ve lost many of the models built to represent neighborhood landmarks, all of the street names have fallen off, and much of it has become faded and cracked.

“I’ve been asked why I need $10,000 to paint a mural.  After we take out the Kickstarter fees and the cost of the rewards we’re offering, I’ll end up with about $7,000. But with that, I’m not just painting a mural. I want to construct a piece of art that will last for decades. I want the streets to be made out of stainless steel engraved with the street name. Then I need more durable materials to rebuild the many landmarks the Northside has to offer. It’s much more than paint.”

Over the course of 30 years, Randy has contributed to projects all over the neighborhood, installing about 800 streetscapes, 50 vegetable garden plots and 8 parks. He has also inspired countless contributions from other neighborhood residents.

“When I built the map, I wanted to show people that my neighborhood, the Northside, had the same things as everyone else.  To inspire people to move here and raise a family.  To show that Northside is not just another place, but a community with lots of community spaces to enjoy.”

Randyland’s Kickstarter has less than a week to meet its goal. To help keep Randyland going, visit the Kickstarter page. The campaign ends on July 20, 2014.

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment....