Art in Akron just got several million times more vibrant.

The Akron Art Museum has landed an $8 million gift believed to be the single largest in its history from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The gift, announced Thursday by officials from the museum and the foundation, is geared to break down barriers and bring more art into peoples lives.

One of the vehicles for this initiative will be to establish the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden on the grounds of the iconic museum as a public gathering space.

The museum also hopes to expand its collection of works by contemporary artists and further use technology to engage visitors.

Alberto Ibargen, Knight Foundation president and CEO, said the funds from the foundation created by former newspaper giants are part of a mission to enhance the quality of life in those communities where the family had newspapers.

And giving to the arts and improving access to it, he said, does just that.

Ibargen said the foundation commissioned a study a few years back that looked what attracts and connects people within a community.

Before hearing the results, Ibargen said, he would have guessed jobs would have been the No. 1 driver of why people move somewhere and choose to plant roots.

However, he said the study found most people connect with a city through family and personal friendships, and they think a strong cultural and arts community is also important.

The foundation has a history of being a patron of the Akron museum over the last 20 years, including contributing to the construction of the distinctive Coop Himmelb(l)au-designed expansion that opened in 2007. The glass structure is named for John S. and James L. Knight, who once owned the Akron Beacon Journal.

So when folks within the Akron arts community began lobbying for financial help to not only keep the lights on, but also to further reach out into the community in new and innovative ways, Ibargen said, it was not a tough sell for the foundation board to buy in.

This sort of thing doesnt just happen by chance, he said.

Akron Art Museum CEO Mark Masuoka said landing the grant was a group effort from employees to the museums board to patrons of art in the community.

Funding of this magnitude is transformative, Masuoka said, for a museum like Akron that boasts a collection of some 5,000 works that date back as far as 1850.

The hard work starts right now, he said. The investment we make back to the community is immense.

A gift to the arts is a gift back to the community.

The museum plans to recast Masuokas job title to reflect the Knight familys legacy of contributions to the arts in Akron and specifically its support of the museum: The current and future leaders will go by the title of John S. Knight director and CEO.

Given Jack Knights commitment to being the kind of leader who tirelessly worked to improve the civic landscape, were proud to rename the executive directors title in his name, Masuoka said. Its a legacy we believe in as we work to lead in Akron by enriching lives through modern and contemporary art.

The four key concentrations of the financial gift include:

?Exhibitions. Support exhibitions by significant modern and contemporary artists, including work by artists who explore digital aspects of contemporary culture.

?Collections. Strengthen a commitment to scholarship, research and acquisition of significant artworks to be displayed in the galleries and in the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden.

?Public engagement. Enhance the digitization of the collection and the web, gallery and program design to expand access to the collection and improve visitor experience.

?Operations. Enhance the museums ability to create engaging digital content and incorporate technology into the visitor experience.

William Considine, CEO of Akron Childrens Hospital, a Knight Foundation trustee and long-time supporter of the Akron Art Museum, said this was an important day for the museum.

Theres a rich history of the Akron Art Museum demonstrating how the arts can make the city a better place, Considine said in a prepared statement. Its significant that Knight Foundation believes in the role the Akron Art Museum serves in Akron and that theyre willing to embrace this institution with such dedication.

Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan agreed: Investing in the art community is an investment in all of us.

Craig Webb can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3547.