New Civic Commons Opens for Public Use at the Akron Art Museum
Or, Where To Go Picnicking on Your Next Lunch Break
words by M. Sophie Franchi, photos by Anthony Boarman
Next time I’m walking around downtown and get the urge to do somersaults across a large grassy area, I know where I’ll be headed: the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden. That is, the new civic commons next to the Akron Art Museum.
According to my son, one can do 18 somersaults from one end of the green to the other. He discovered this while I was grooving to sounds of Shivering Timbers at the Grand Opening Celebration on July 16.
The week before the Grand Opening Celebration for the garden, I toured the new space with the museum’s Design, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Dominic Caruso. Over the clamoring and hammering sounds of final construction, Caruso explained how the space came to be.
When planning began for the new Akron Art Museum in 2007, the garden was part of that plan. But when it came time for construction, they decided they would have to delay it. The completion of the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden, then, is the completion of that plan.
Originally, the museum had a courtyard sculpture garden that went away with the creation of the new building. At first, the plan was to create a similar garden, but after a series of conversations with local community members and museum staff and the board, a new plan emerged for a space that would be more engaging and more of a public space downtown.
“They came up with this idea for the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden, which would be a place where people could have art experiences, and there could be temporary art and maybe even permanent art, but it wouldn’t be just a sculpture garden,” said Caruso. “It would be a space for events, a space for people to just come and hang out and enjoy downtown, and hopefully it will enrich downtown Akron. We’ve seen a lot of activity in downtown—there’s been a sort of a renaissance, at least in the interest of downtown.”
Bud and Susie Rogers are much beloved, long-time Akron philanthropists. The former president and chief executive of the B.W. Rogers Co., Bud Rogers has volunteered with and served as board president of the American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve, Sumner on Ridgewood and the United Way of Summit County.
Susie Rogers is an emeritus member of the board of governors for Akron Golf Charities, past board president of the Junior League of Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association and Akron Garden Club, and past president of the Western Reserve Academy/Pioneer Women. She has also helped with financial campaigns for the Boys and Girls Clubs and United Way.
In 2007, Bud and Susie received the H. Peter Burg Community Leadership Award from the Red Cross, Summit County Chapter. In 2008, they received the Bert A. Polsky Humanitarian Award. Both are past recipients of the United Way’s Distinguished Service Award.
Rick Rogers was president of the board of the Akron Art Museum when the museum broke ground in 2004 for the celebrated John S. and James L. Knight Building. Alita Rogers currently serves on the board of the Akron Art Museum and is Secretary of the Board.
Rick and Alita Rogers gave a lead gift to the museum to fund the garden, so the garden has been named after Rick Rogers’ parents.
The one-acre garden has two entrances—one on South High Street and one off of Broadway Street—and four basic parts: the plaza, the green, the criss-cross and the upper grove, or “art oasis.”
The plaza seats 50 people on the concrete walls, with plenty of room for additional chair seating. The plaza has a sub-portion called the canopy, which is a small grove of white birch trees growing out of crushed granite. It’s surreal to see trees growing out of what looks like cement. But the crushed granite provides more drainage and is better for water conservation than concrete. And trees can grow out of it.
The green is exactly what it sounds like: a large grassy area, perfect for an impromptu yoga class, a picnic lunch, or, you know…cartwheels.
“We would love to see dads and moms coming from the library. The trip to the library doesn’t have to end with them checking out books and going home; maybe they could have story time on the lawn,” said Caruso. The museum hopes to have structured events with the library, such as story walks or story times.
The green also has a feature wall, which the museum will use for art experiences such as murals and installations.
“We wanted a place that was a blank slate that we could propose to artists—both local artists and national and international artists—to invite them to come look at the space and create work especially for Akron and this space,” said Caruso.
The criss-cross is an ADA-accessible, paved walkway that zig-zags up from the plaza and green to the upper grove. The walkway is bordered with flowerbeds containing native plants. In fact, all the plants in the garden, with the exception of one tree, are native to Ohio, and all the plants are hardy enough to make it through winter.
The upper grove, or “art oasis” is another grove of trees growing out of crushed granite, from which you can survey the entire garden. The crushed granite is softer to the foot than pavement, but holds up as firm as concrete. Again: trees growing out of granite. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. But it looks cool, and it’s good for the environment.
The garden will be open year-round. There is lighting all around the perimeter, so that even when the garden is closed, it will remain illuminated. “We want the place to look inviting at night. Even though it won’t be accessible, we want it to be secure and safe,” said Caruso.
“The idea is,” said Caruso. “People want to be downtown. We see a lot of foot traffic just on Market and High, so we’re thinking this will energize the block even more.”
The garden will be rentable for private events, and there will be programmed museum events, but the rest of the time, the garden will be open to the public. Caruso said that the idea is two-fold: to have meaningful art experiences at the garden and available to a wider array of people, but also to have a space that’s like a civic commons where people can come spend time downtown.
“That will be the real success of the place is when we just have people—families and kids just playing and coming to enjoy the space.”
View our preview of the grand opening here: bit.ly/29FEbyp