Increased accessibility to the arts and supporting working Akron artists as entrepreneurs are two big themes that have emerged from public input over the last several months for the city's first Akron Cultural Plan, organizers say.
The citywide plan stems from in-person interviews, group creative sessions, neighborhood meetups, artist focus groups and online surveys as Akron residents brainstorm what they want to see in arts and culture. The goal of the collaborative plan, facilitated by ArtsNow and developed by Designing Local of Columbus, is to advance cultural diversity and increase access to arts and culture for residents in all 24 of Akron's neighborhoods.
Now, the public is invited to take a look at the draft recommendations for Akron's cultural plan from 2 to 9 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Akron Art Museum. Team members will be available to answer questions and discuss how the community can act on recommendations. After the public gives its feedback on the full set of draft recommendations, the first draft of the Akron Cultural Plan will be written.
"We really want to make sure they have the opportunity to say, 'Yes, you did capture what I said' in interviews," Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow, said of community members.
It's also not too late for Akron residents to share their arts and culture desires: The online survey deadline has been extended until 11:59 p.m. Friday at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/W9FCBXT.
Community members have made it clear that they want everyone to not only be able to access great arts, culture and environment in Akron, but also be able to participate fully in all three. That includes people with different mobilities and people with either visible or invisible disabilities, Mullet said.
She pointed to the actors who train at the nonprofit Center for Applied Drama and Autism in Akron, which co-hosted a public meeting with United Disability services: "They are artists and are deserving of the ability to participate within the sector ... I think that really came loud and clear as a priority and what was great is that was a priority for the broad community."
Mullet also pointed to the Akron Zoo and Akron-Summit County Public Library becoming certified as sensory-friendly spaces last year and Summit Metro Parks keeping its website up to date on which trails are wheelchair-friendly.
"It's work that has already been started but it's work that the community is saying that they value and they want to see more of" regarding accessibility, Mullet said.
Brian Thomas, president and CEO of UDS, said focus groups on inclusiveness often center on age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and faith.
"A lot of times, disability accessibility and disability inclusiveness are kind of left out of the conversation," he said.
Now that accessibility has emerged as a key focus of the Akron Cultural Plan, Thomas sees that as a motivator for more rapid accessibility improvements at arts and cultural venues throughout the city.
Similar threads of access, engagement and inclusion came out in discussions July 17 at an Age-Friendly Tea hosted by Akron's Age-Friendly Initiative at Stan Hywet.
Older adults said they want to continue to participate and engage in arts and culture, but that's only half of the equation.
"What I heard was 'Don't just think you're presenting arts to us.' Older adults are creators of art. They want to understand what they can provide, what they can contribute. They want that opportunity and that venue to be creative," said Susan Sigmon, an Age-Friendly Akron co-chair.
Access was an issue for the older adults interviewed, who said they want safe evening transportation as well as more daytime, afternoon or early evening cultural events. They also want to see emergency phone stations and increased seating in parks and along trails.
In another key finding from community recommendations, both artists and the broader community stressed the value that artists bring to Akron and the need for the city to recognize them as small business owners.
"We want to truly invest and elevate our working artists in this city and make it a place where they can thrive and not just survive,'' Mullet said of the message emerging from survey responders. "What that means is we have to invest in that entrepreneurial ecosystem for our artists and allow them to stay here, allow them to make a living for themselves and their families here in Akron."
Community suggestions include providing professional development training for artists, including filing taxes as a small business owner and creating effective marketing for their work.
Here are some additional arts and culture recommendations from the community:
• "I think our neighborhoods have been lacking public art and now they're thirsty for it," said Goodyear Heights neighborhood activist Sharon Connor, a Ward 10 candidate for Akron City Council.
She said Mac Love's @Play project that created collaborative art in all 24 Akron neighborhoods has transformed Reservoir Park through 10 colorful murals in the pool area as well as concrete now painted in three vibrant shades of blue.
What does her neighborhood, which is also building a new playground this month at Reservoir Park, envision next?
"They're really interested in some art that represents our history. Goodyear Heights has such a rich and interesting history" centering on Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and neighborhood designer Warren Manning, Connor said.
• Multimedia artist Vanessa Lee Abraham, a community meeting facilitator, interviewed children at a Touch a Truck event at Summit Lake and adults at a Ward 1 meeting in Highland Square about what they want to see in Akron. Responses included everything from a water park, step classes and housing beautification to graffiti cleanup, the return of a full-time ballet company and support for an opera company.
• Samantha Coldwell, president of Torchbearers, hosted a young professional focus group July 18 at the Akron Civic Theatre. Feedback from that group included the desire for walkable public spaces that are well connected in the core of various neighborhoods. Responses also called for a live music nightlife scene in neighborhoods beyond Highland Square, Kenmore and downtown.
"It'd be really cool to see more neighborhoods have that and be more geographically equitable," said Coldwell, who lives in Highland Square.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.