The Akron Art Museum is hoping to celebrate its 100th birthday in a big way.
On Saturday morning, the museum announced a $25 million fundraising campaign — with a significant portion already raised — to celebrate the 2022 centennial anniversary.
The campaign, which has been "silently" underway for quite some time, will be in two phases.
Some of the money already raised was used to help complete the construction of the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden outside the downtown museum. The garden space opened with fanfare in July 2016.
Other money was set aside to, in the words of museum officials, "stabilize the financial health of the organization, creating a more robust endowment and operating fund from which the museum has seen tremendous growth over the last three years."
"Celebrating our history and investing in what makes this museum special sets the stage for all future endeavors, including welcoming a more diverse audience, breaking the barriers to accessibility and building upon our legacy of artistic excellence," said John S. Knight Director and CEO Mark Masuoka.
The $8 million lead gift from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation was the catalyst for the most recent transformation of the museum, including investments in new artworks and utilizing more technology to enhance the visitor's experience and accessibility.
"The Akron Art Museum demonstrates how arts can make our city a better place," said museum and Knight foundation board member William Considine. "I am excited to see what they do next."
The next phase of the campaign will set the stage for the museum's centennial.
Items on the wish list include the creation of the Center for Creative Learning, which would be home to the museum's education and public programs in renovated space in the first floor of the building built in 1899. The center will allow guests to interact with artist collaborations and expand digital offerings.
"The enduring support of this community for the Akron Art Museum has never been more important than it is today," said honorary campaign chair W. Gerald Austen. "Maintaining and achieving excellence while being ever more relevant benefits the Akron community and will continue to be our most pressing priority as we look forward to our centennial and beyond."
Another goal will be to create a fund that would support the planning and execution of education and public programs in the community to create opportunities for all residents to interact with the museum.
"(My wife) Marilyn and I remember bringing our children to the museum for classes and to see the exhibitions," said Thomas Merryweather, honorary director of the museum. "Our daughter Melissa suggests it's what sparked her desire to become an artist and live abroad.
"Building an appreciation for art changes your perspective on everything."
The final goal is to enhance the museum's endowment to ensure it is around for another 100 years.
"Having invested over $70 million in downtown Akron over the last 13 years, we are excited to see downtown development in motion and look forward to being an active partner in Akron's cultural, civic and economic development," said Bruce Rowland, president of the museum's board of directors.
Recent contributions to the campaign include some $2.5 million in gifts from Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell, Dana Pulk Dickinson and Thomas Merryweather.
Major gifts in the "silent" early campaign, in addition to the Knight foundation's, include grants from the Rick and Alita Rogers Family Foundation and The J.M. Smucker Co. Other contributors include Myrna Berzon, the Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation, the Lehner Family Foundation, Herb and Dianne Newman, Rory and Dedee O'Neil and the state of Ohio.
So far $17 million has been raised toward Saturday's announced $25 million goal.
For more on the campaign and the museum, visit akronartmuseum.org.
Craig Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.