A New Arts Initiative for Akron-Knightarts.org

Republished from a September 20, 2014 KnightArts.org article written by Dennis Scholl

Last year, Knight and the GAR Foundation released a survey on the arts in Akron that was telling.

We found a real hunger for arts and culture in the city. People craved it. But we also found some gaps: African-Americans and young people in particular were having trouble finding programming that spoke to them.

I was impressed by how the arts community turned the information into an opportunity. They met, began to talk about what culture meant to them and the broader community, to look at strengths, opportunities and a way forward.

To us at Knight, it was a great sign that Akron as a community was sitting down to reshape its cultural identity.

Knight Foundation wants to play its part in helping Akron shape its new vibrant cultural community.  So today we’re excited to announce $6 million in new investments in the arts in Akron, funding we hope will build on this momentum. To start, $3 million will go to five of the city’s anchor arts  institutions – groups that have excelled at artistic excellence and  in finding new ways to go deep into the community to create cultural opportunities for everyone. They include:

  • The Akron Civic Theater, which has excelled at making the theater available to the community with the help of our buy down program, where we subsidize fees so that smaller groups have a place to present their work at the beautiful Civic Theater. Knowing the Civic is available to them frees these organizations to focus on developing artistically excellent work.
  • Tuesday Musical Association, which brings the greatest performers in the world to Akron – and with our Stay a Day fund convinces them to stay an extra day to teach a master class and spend time with students. We’re helping them extend the time those artists spend in the city so they can meet with more local youth.
  • YEPAW, which has spent 25 years working with Akron kids, many of whom have gone on to excel at careers in the arts. Our funding will help them expand their summer program to 300 high school students, who will learn everything from piano to video production. I was touched to hear that one of the summer program graduates, Te’Anna Hunt, is organizing her first concert as a fundraiser for YEPAW. She is just 16 – but she credits YEPAW for not only helping her develop her music but also her leadership skills.
  • Akron Symphony, an extraordinary partner in our Random Acts of Culture program, where they literally did hundreds of performances that brought performers out of the Symphony Hall and into the street.  Knight funding is going to help them seek even greater community participation in their work.
  • And the Akron Art Museum – an ongoing investment of $1 million we announced last year to help present groundbreaking exhibitions, like that of contemporary artist Trenton Doyle Hancock that is open right now. The museum is now a nationally recognized expert in community engagement and in reshaping the way communities think about and interact with museums. You can read about these efforts in a new post by the museum’s Executive Director Mark Masuoka.

We’re also excited to bring the Knight Arts Challenge to Akron in 2015. It’s our fifth city for the challenge, a community-wide contest for the best arts ideas. It’s open to everyone – and we mean everyone – whether you’re a nonprofit, individual or a business with a great idea. We’ll be giving away up to $1 million a year over three years, and there will be lots of winners. We’ll  announcing more information as we get closer to the contest launch date next summer, but you can get a jump start by reading more about the challenge on our site and looking through past winners. Start thinking about your best idea for the arts in Akron. We can’t wait to see what you send us.

— Dennis Scholl, VP/arts at Knight Foundation