Planning for an outdoor sculpture garden at the downtown Akron Art Museum began taking shape Friday when officials announced the pledge of a “seven-figure gift” by Rick and Alita Rogers of Akron.
Outgoing museum director Mitchell Kahan said the actual architectural planning and design process is expected to begin early next year.
“What is now an open, sloping parking lot will be excavated and turned into a grand, enclosed space,” Kahan said as he announced the pledge in the building’s atrium.
The parking lot is on the south side of the museum on South High Street, adjacent to the John S. Knight Center in the heart of downtown.
Kahan said the sculpture garden will be named in honor of Rick Rogers’ parents, Bruce “Bud” Rogers and his wife, Suzanne “Susie” Rogers, longtime community volunteers and museum supporters.
Both generations of the Rogers family attended the announcement before about 60 visitors, museum staff members and city officials, including Mayor Don Plusquellic.
In other developments, Kahan formally announced his retirement at Friday’s ceremony, after serving 26 years as museum director.
The museum’s chief curator, Janice Driesbach, who joined the staff in August, was named interim director.
Driesbach studied for her master’s degree at the University of Iowa with art historian Frank Seiberling, son of Goodyear founder F.A. Seiberling. She previously worked at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento as curator of art and held two museum directorships, at the University of Nebraska’s Sheldon Museum of Art and the Dayton Art Institute.
Kahan said the sculpture garden, with 17,000 square feet of space, will serve several functions.
“It will be a place to show outdoor art. It will be a place where we hold outdoor concerts, especially our much beloved Downtown at Dusk concerts each summer, which are sponsored by the city of Akron,” Kahan said.
He said those who use the sculpture garden will be able to sit and have lunch, talk to friends and, of course, “Tweet, check email and post to Facebook.”
Special events also will be held there, Kahan said.
Plusquellic also addressed the gathering, saying Kahan was the museum’s primary driving force and praising his leadership for seeing “the opportunity for Akron to not accept second place, or not accept [itself] as just a normal, run-of-the-mill industrial town.’’
“You saw the opportunity for greatness,” Plusquellic said, “and that we could be anything we desired to be with this facility.”
He called it a “world-class” museum, saying he urges everyone with whom he visits, both here and abroad, “to come see this place and what we were able to do here.”
The Rogers family firm, the B.W. Rogers Co., in downtown Akron, was founded in 1928 by Rick Rogers’ grandfather to primarily serve the city’s rubber industry.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.