By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic
The connection between the Knight Foundation and the Akron Art Museum has been long and supportive, from the foundation’s early days until last week, when it announced a $750,000 multi-year grant to help design public outreach and programming at the museum.
Between 1966 and 2013, the Knight Foundation has given the museum approximately $9.3 million, a hefty sum and an indication of the foundation’s commitment and support.
Contributions have ranged from $5,000 in 1966 (its smallest gift) to $4 million in 2000, a partial challenge grant for the addition to the museum and for the endowment, according to foundation records.
Six years later, it gave an additional $2 million toward the “Create a Masterpiece” campaign, which led to the new building being named in honor of John S. and James L. Knight. It opened in 2007.
Museum surpasses goal
The museum more than met the challenge, raising $44.8 million, well over its goal of $42 million, according to Elizabeth M. Wilson, the museum’s director of marketing communication.
Between 2006 and 2012 the Knight Foundation also gave:
• $20,000 in 2009 to help fund an exhibit at the opening of the new building;
• $107,500 in 2010 to help digitize the museum’s collection;
• $35,000 in 2011 for phase two of the digitization project;
• $110,000 to support Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui in 2012 and for programming in celebration of the museum’s 90th anniversary;
• $250,000 in 2012 to support strategic planning for the museum as it “transitions to new leadership and strives to become a model for small to mid-sized art museums.” Former director Mitchell Kahan retired in December 2012; Mark Masuoka is his replacement.
The $750,000 Knight grant announced earlier this week is to advance its goal “to further the museum’s audience engagement mission.”
“The Akron Art Museum is one of the anchor art institutions in the city of Akron, and it has also shown the ability to achieve artistic excellence,” said Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation vice president/arts.
Scholl oversees the foundation’s national arts program, including the Knight Arts Challenge and Random Acts of Culture. He has also been a collector of contemporary art for over three decades.
He cites as examples of the Akron museum’s artistic excellence two shows that the museum curated, which then went on extensive and widely touted national tours: Detroit Disassembled: Photographs by Andrew Moore in 2010 and Gravity and Grace in 2012.
“These were shows that originated at the Akron Art Museum and shows that went on to travel across America,” Scholl noted.
“In addition to that, with Mark’s [Masuoka] arrival, we are pretty excited about his penchants for audience engagement, taking the work of the museum out of the museum and into the street. That’s a hallmark of our funding, and we will be reaching out to the community more.
“That’s why we have been so committed to the museum throughout its life and the life of the foundation. That’s why we have made this significant commitment to the life of the museum,” Scholl said.