Two Akron-related duos — the Black Keys and Fred and Laura Bidwell — will receive a Cleveland Arts Prize today at an event at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Bidwells, who have been active in both the Akron and Cleveland art scenes, will share the Martha Joseph Prize, given annually to individuals or organizations that have made a significant contribution to the vitality and stature of the arts in Northeast Ohio.
Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney, who have become bona fide arena-filling rock stars, will be awarded one of the two Mid-Career Artists Awards for “music and dance,” which celebrates “artists who have received national recognition in addition to regional and local acclaim and have resided in Northeast Ohio.”
The prizes were started by the Women’s City Club in 1960. Potential prize winners must be nominated in their category, before being discussed by a jury in their category and then again by a larger “jury of the whole.”
Cleveland Arts Prize Executive Director Marcie Bergman said the discussions about the Keys’ worthiness didn’t take very long.
“It was pretty unanimous. Everybody in the room said, ‘Wow, we would love to award this to them.’ They seem to be at a wonderful point in their career and seem to be making a huge difference …” Bergman said.
The honor also comes with a $10,000 cash prize, which the band will donate to Community Support Services, an Akron-based agency that helps people with mental illness and provides “comprehensive, high-quality, cost-effective treatment, rehabilitation, advocacy and support for recovery, primarily to persons most in need, to enhance the quality of their lives.”
The agency’s work has personal meaning to the duo. Their mutual friend, the late Alfred McMoore, a local artist who dealt with schizophrenia much of his life, was a client of the agency. His unique way of communicating his displeasure with someone or something, i.e. “your black key is taking too long,” provided the band with its name.
Shortly after McMoore’s death at age 59 in 2009, the Black Keys performed a sold-out benefit concert at Musica in Akron that raised more than $20,000 for an endowment fund, the Black Keys Alfred McMoore Memorial Fund, that provides a permanent revenue stream for Community Support Services.
In addition to the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Keys have also been named Community Support Services’ Donors of the Year for donating the $10,000 arts prize money and designating a portion of their ticket sales from their hugely successful 2012-2013 tour of arenas to the agency, a contribution totaling nearly $15,000.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. They are remembering their hometown and the things that are important to them and that’s great,” Bergman said.
The Bidwells will share the Martha Joseph Prize with Jill Snyder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Cleveland, and Peggy Spaeth, executive director of Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights.
Combining arts activism with philanthropy, the Bidwells, formerly of Akron, now living in Peninsula, established the Bidwell Foundation in 2011 to support artists and arts institutions by sponsoring projects, programming and exhibitions that encourage creativity and innovation.
The Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery at the Akron Art Museum reflects their level of commitment to the museum and the cultural life of Akron.
In January, the photography collectors opened the Transformer Station, a former Cleveland Railway Co. transformer station in Ohio City where they will mount shows six months a year and the Cleveland Museum of Art will program the other six months.
“We started this project about three years ago when Laura and I decided we needed to do something with all this art. It was ridiculous to have it all delivered to our basement and just sit there,” Bidwell recalled.
Their partnership with the Cleveland Museum of Art now allows the museum to have a physical presence on the West Side of Cleveland for the first time.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. His blog, Sound Check Online, is at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check. Dorothy Shinn covers art and architecture. Send email to email@example.com.