A Year In Review – The Arts

A roundup of arts happenings you may have missed.

by Bronlynn Thurman and Chris Horne

Given the controversy and big changes in the city of Akron’s Mayor’s Office, not to mention on campus at the University of Akron, it’d be easy to overlook what a big year it was for local artists and art organizations. But that’s why we’re here. We don’t want you to miss anything, so here’s a quick look back at just some of the amazing arts-related news that’s happened since the first issue of The Devil Strip hit stands.


AAAA and Summit Artspace restructured

After its board took a long look at itself, the Akron Area Artists Association undertook a major restructuring so it could deliver the services it does best while helping local artists where they need it most. The result is a renewed focus on the Summit Artspace as an community arts center by way of arts incubator, housing galleries, workshops, artists’ studios, Rubber City Prints, the Akron Shakespeare Company and Crafty Mart, among others. To take their work a step further, they rebranded with a new logo and hired a new executive director, Joanne Green, who is pushing the Artspace in new directions. Since then, they’ve opened up areas for more artist studios as well as coworking spaces. They’ve also been bringing in more programing and partnering with local art groups. – BT


ArtsNow and SummitLive365.com are born

In January 2014, the GAR Foundation joined Knight to fund an arts and culture assessment of Summit County. Among the study’s findings: There was no central location for information about local arts and culture. While that told us there was a need for this magazine, there was a host of other concerns that a band of artists, creatives, art lovers and organizations came together to address, which led them to form a nonprofit arts advocacy group called ArtsNow. Phase one includes SummitLive365.com, the aforementioned central location for arts and culture info that you may have noticed is advertised on the back cover of the magazine. But the fledgling website has done more than light the way to cool events for the local culturati. It’s starting to help artists find jobs, gigs and commissions too. On top of that, the organization, led by the indefatigable Nicole Mullet and fueled with renewable Benjamin Rexroad energy, is helping cities and towns around Summit County build up their arts scenes, which they’ll then connect to provide reciprocal support for each other while also collaborating to draw in a larger audience instead of thinking they have to fight over the die-hards. – CH


Coloring in Akron’s empty spaces

Akron got a little easier on the eyes over the last year when some new mural and public arts projects went up. One of the most notable is the #LovetheWall project, funded by a DAP-sponsored Kickstarter campaign. Headed by artist Nathan Mayfield, this colorful mural spans the South Broadway wall near the Metro RTA Transit Center. Kickstarter helped another local artist, Michael W. Marras, get his Tree Project off the ground. Originally funded in November 2014, it started to bear fruit in December 2015 when the metal trunk appeared outside the wall of Hazel Tree Interiors on W. Market. (Ed. note: The Devil Strip’s local art + newsbox project was also funded on Kickstarter and is, finally, wrapping up! – Chris)

Last summer, Howard Parr, director of the Civic, and Paul Nagel, co-owner of Nagel Advertising, came up with the Devo art installation by the historic theatre using Janet Macoska’s classic photo of the band on a break from shooting a video. Devo co-founder Jerry Casale spoke at the unveiling (at which a troop of Booji Boy-masked folks also paraded) of the enlarged photo, which resides in the collection at the Akron Art Museum.

Land of Plenty Mural
Land of Plenty Mural

Our cherry on top is the colorful, partially-3D mural that went up on the building that houses Land of Plenty. The project was a collaboration between Land of Plenty owner (and artist) Kristi Wall and the University of Akron’s Arts LIFT program, led by art professor Elisa Gargarella. Wall also enlisted the help of Canton artist, Steve Ehret, and together they (along with UA students) developed a beautiful mural that can be seen from the street. – BT


The Knight Foundation brings Art Challenge, national dance center to Akron

While the Knight Cities Challenge awards $5 million across the nation to improve the 26 cities in its network, the Arts Challenge only exists in three other locations — Miami, Detroit and St. Paul. So Akron’s 27 winners are in select company as the challenge pumps $3 million into the arts scene here with matching grants over the next three years. That’s on top of the millions Knight has already spent with specific grants to support the Akron Art Museum, Lock 3, Akron Symphony Orchestra and the Civic, among others, including the formation of a national center for dance in partnership with The University of Akron and DANCECleveland. The winners for the first Knight Arts Challenge Akron were announced March 15. Visit knightfoundation.org/features/artsakron/ to read about their big ideas for how to make the arts thrive in Akron. The second round of the arts challenge opens up April 4 – May 2 so now is the time to hone your ideas. Visit knightfoundation.org/knight-arts-challenge/akron/ for more. – CH


UA Press revived

The University of Akron Press was a victim of last summer’s layoffs and budget cuts, but after public outcry — amid the administration’s assertion that, despite no staff, the press would go on — the university restored two of the three positions that had been eliminated. Good thing for poetry lovers, in particular, because the Akron Poetry Prize is beloved, providing poets a path to publication. You can read more about the “new” UA Press and the latest winners, including Sandra Simonds’ “Further Problems With Pleasure,” by visiting bit.ly/uapresspoetry – BT


Akron Civic and Playhouse saves the day

When the University of Akron laid off EJ Thomas Hall staff in July last year, many were concerned about the performance space, which Akronites had come to think of as a communal space. While the facility is slated for maintenance and remains available for rent to community organizations, some of the best news to emerge was when the Akron Civic Theatre and Playhouse Square stepped in to rescue the Broadway in Akron series from its unknown fate with a two-year agreement. – BT


sounds of akronSounds of Akron

In 2015, we saw the launch of The Akron Symphony Orchestra project called Sounds of Akron. Funded by the Knight Foundation, the Sounds of Akron is a collaborative project involving the Akron community. By downloading the Sounds of Akron app, Akronites can record and submit their sounds to be added to a larger piece. It will be the first crowd-sourced symphony in the nation and will debut at EJ Thomas Hall on April 16, 2016. Find more information at soundsofakron.com – BT


Theatre Works

The New World Performance Lab, with funding from the Knight Foundation, has been rehearsing and producing a trilogy of Akron-inspired plays called “The Devil’s Milk.” Each play focuses on a different time in Akron history but all deal with the rubber industry. The first of the final products, “The Death of a Man” (review, pg. 17), enjoyed a run through Feb. 20. For more information about upcoming shows, visit nwplab.com

Wandering Aesthetics
Wandering Aesthetics

Rubber City Shakespeare Company has spent the last year putting out some great works. This includes an Akron set “Macbeth,” “The Twelve Dates of Christmas,” “Richard III” and “As You Like It.” Coming up from them will be “A Comedy of Errors” April 1-17 and “Women Beware Women” May 27-June 12. For more info, visit rubbercityshakes.org

Wandering Aesthetics has consistently produced interactive programing year round. Last year was the launch of their partnership with The Akronist, ASCPL and the development of the Full Circle Storytelling series. It is a monthly series that engages the community and gives them an outlet to let their stories be heard. Visit watheatre.com for more information. – BT


Inside/Out exhibit: Raphael Gleitsmann
Inside/Out exhibit: Raphael Gleitsmann

Akron Art Museum turns the city Inside/Out

Whatever you think about art museums, chances are good you at least assume the art stays inside behind closed doors. Well, that’s exactly what the Akron Art Museum decided to change in 2015, putting 30 reproductions out in public spaces in six neighborhoods throughout the community with the Knight-funded Inside/Out program. Organizers didn’t stop at just hanging art; they held community meetings, hosted walking tours and shared the museum experience with Akronites who otherwise may have never seen these works. That’s the good news. The best news is that they’re doing it again in 2016 but this time with 40 works. For more info about Inside/Out or any of the excellent programs at AAM, visit akronartmuseum.org – CH


Welcome to the new galleries and centers

This last year, we had a plethora of new galleries opening up. Ro3 in downtown Akron has opened its doors the latter part of last year. The gallery participated in the Akron Art Prize and is currently hosting a Kickstarter. The Akron Center, also known as ACAMP, opened its doors last year and has been providing the area with an all-in-one art school. Hive Mind, tucked away on West Exchange, takes a DIY approach to the arts scene and mixes it with the ethos of indie music’s affinity for house shows. – BT


Restructure of Summit Choral Society

New life has been breathed into the Summit Choral Society with the introduction of their artistic director, Marie Bucoy-Calavan and a shift in direction. They restructured their board, engage with the community and are trying to balance tradition and relevancy. To read Roger Riddle’s profile of Marie, visit bit.ly/marie_bc – BT


Akron Art Prize grows and proves

In November, the Downtown Akron Partnership announced the winner of the Akron Art Prize. Frederick Shortridge took home the grand prize of $5,000 for his piece “Afro Historical Family Tree” and the honor of having his work displayed at the Akron Art Museum. Runners up received $1,000 each and include Michael Marras for his piece “A Salvageable Future,” Brian Parson for “It All Ends Where It Begins,” Tom Baldwin for “The Last Rhino Symbiosis,” J David Norton for “Evening Sunset,” Bill Lynn for “Demise of a Legend” and April Couch for “Mandala Table.” View the pieces on the DAP website at downtownakron.com/enjoy/akron-art-prize. Organizers are currently looking at ways to continue improving the art prize so stay tuned for updates. – BT