The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded $750,000 to 14 Akron arts groups to help bring innovative programs to the city aimed at engaging expanded audiences through a variety of disciplines.
With the grant support, the foundation, based in Miami, continues its efforts to weave the arts into Akron residents’ everyday lives. Akron arts projects range from a performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream to addressing racial issues through theater.
Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for the Knight Foundation, said it’s exciting to fund efforts in Akron that engage more people in the arts.
“One of the things we’re excited about in Akron when it comes to the arts is that we’re seeing a lot of green shoots,” he said, referring to new arts initiatives. “You’ve got a new, independent cinema for the city, you’ve got the guys from Neos [Dance Theater], which is pretty much an emerging dance company in the community, and we have this new idea from GroundWorks” DanceTheater — a community video project called “It’s Your Move.”
“You start to see this kind of organic bubbling in Akron and we get excited about that, because it shows that there are things happening in the community at the grassroots level,” Scholl said. “We want to look for and provide fuel for that organic momentum.”
The grants complement the foundation’s $1 million investment in the Akron Art Museum in the last year to create new exhibitions and engage the public.
A grant to the Akron Film + Pixel organization is aimed at lovers of independent films who have had to go to Cleveland venues like the Cedar Lee and Cinematheque to see such fare. The group plans to open a theater — albeit one seating no more than 75 people — in downtown Akron in the first half of 2014 to show first-run independent and foreign movies. The deal for the theater is not yet complete.
The group could not have done it without a Knight grant, said Kurtiss Hare, communications operator and film programmer. “We would absolutely need this kind of help.” They plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in November to raise more money to improve the moviegoing experience.
Youth arts education is the focus with some of the newest grants, including a composition workshop with banjo player Bela Fleck and string quartet Brooklyn Rider, professional dance residencies, and arts training for young Cascade Village residents.
The recipients are:
• Akron Film + Pixel, $120,000: To launch the city’s first digital art house cinema, transforming an existing building into a small venue called The Nightlight, featuring daily independent and foreign films.
• Tuesday Musical Association, $40,000: To offer local students a composition workshop with Fleck and Brooklyn Rider in November.
“This gift not only supports a world-class main stage concert, but funds rich education programs,” executive director Jarrod Hartzler said. He added that Fleck will work with Akron Public Schools students, and with Brooklyn Rider he will do a workshop with students from Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music and the University of Akron.
• City of Akron, $60,000: For the free summer cultural programs that attract more than 220,000 people each year to Lock 3. The grant also supports the 40-year tradition of free ballet through the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, and the Lock 3 Summer Arts Experience for 65 high school arts apprentices.
• Keepers of the Art, $15,000: To raise social consciousness through “true school” hip-hop music and culture by expanding the group’s annual showcase weekend. Plans include taping a Teen Forum TV program, where teens and guests talk about issues such as popular culture, education and mental health.
• GroundWorks DanceTheater, $15,000: To launch “It’s Your Move,” a video project that features GroundWorks dancers and community members demonstrating a dance move and inviting viewers to respond with their own. GroundWorks will take the project around Northeast Ohio to collect moves from a variety of people.
• Greater Akron Musical Association, $90,000: To bring the community together around a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring the Akron Symphony Shakespeare Players, Ballet Excel Ohio (formerly the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet), the Summit Children’s Choir and actors from the Akron area. The association also will work with libraries and schools to organize a community reading project.
Paul Jarrett, executive director of the Akron Symphony/Greater Akron Musical Association, said, “We are thrilled once again to partner with the Knight Foundation to bring the work of Shakespeare and Mendelssohn to life through the collective talents of so many wonderful regional artists … This will be a landmark event for the whole community.”
Arts in Cascade Village
• Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshops, $100,000: To provide training in performing arts for the youngest residents of Cascade Village, where a Knight-funded effort is working to improve life skills and build relationships among community members.
“Because of the generosity of the Knight Foundation, the YEPAW Institute has the privilege of sharing the joy of the arts with the children of Cascade Village, right in their neighborhood,” said founder and director Leslie Parker Barnes. “Some of the students sat to play a piano for the first time. Others created a 6-by-4-foot banner celebrating their love for the village by identifying favorite Akron landmarks and then painting those images on canvas. Students from throughout the community joined the Cascade Village residents in master classes of dance, percussion and voice.”
Some of the students even participated in YEPAW’s encore presentation of The Wiz in April. Barnes added, “The YEPAW Institute at Cascade Village has been an amazing experience, one that will not soon be forgotten.”
• Cleveland International Film Festival, $75,000: To present the festival’s “Day and Knight in Akron” in March 2014. It will be paired with a community discussion and mini-festival for high school students, with selections linked to school curriculums.
New in downtown
• Downtown Akron Partnership, $20,000: To launch Downtown Live and Local, a series of events in the Downtown Special Improvement District, bringing new and established artists together in unusual spaces for social experiences in music, film, performance and visual art.
• DanceCleveland, $25,000: To provide Akron students the chance to work with professional dancers through two residencies, including one by Philadelphia’s BalletX earlier this month. Another will take place in the spring.
• Neos Dance Theater, $25,000: To help the company build its repertoire through new works.
• Weathervane Community Playhouse, $45,000: To use the arts to address race issues by presenting two plays new to Akron (David Mamet’s Race and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park), commissioning a third, and pairing them with community discussions.
“If you look at our production history over the last 20 years you will see a demonstrated commitment to programming that speaks directly to the African-American community, as well as a broad spectrum of people who live in the Akron area,” said John Hedges, executive director. “With the support of the Knight Foundation, we look forward to increasing our connection with a diverse population and expanding the inclusiveness of Weathervane Playhouse.”
• Community Hall Foundation, $100,000: To produce 110 events over the next two years at the Akron Civic Theatre, including the All-City Musical featuring high school students, the Jazz@The Civic series, family-friendly events and more.
“While we love hosting nationally touring shows like Steve Winwood and B.B. King, we are thrilled the Knight Foundation has chosen to support our commitment to local and regional attractions,” said executive director Howard Parr. “The foundation’s support opens the doors of the theater to hundreds of talented artists and the thousands of people who will come and see them.”
• Alchemy, $20,000: To use mythology and art-making to help urban male youth think creatively and analytically about their lives. Over two years, Alchemy will host workshops on mask-making, talisman creation and painting, culminating in a final project.
The Knight Foundation has invested $150 million in Akron since 1950, including $46 million since 2008.
Beacon Journal pop culture writer Rich Heldenfels contributed to this report. Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.