Community members got a first look at recommendations for Akron's first cultural plan Thursday at the Akron Art Museum.

Representatives from ArtsNow of Akron and Designing Local, a cultural planning company from Columbus, presented rough-draft recommendations on poster boards in the museum lobby after months of interviewing Akron residents about arts and culture in their city. Many recommendations drew on broad themes of celebrating cultural diversity, creating equitable access and ensuring parity in the leadership of cultural organizations, while others recommended more fine-tuned, specific project recommendations.

In the parity category, community input suggested greater representation on cultural boards for African Americans, new Americans, young leaders, high school students, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of various faith backgrounds, older adults and people with disabilities.

That recommendation drew a post-it note from an attendee Friday saying: "Measure this before making overall assumptions."

The recommendation also called for a yearly survey of the makeup of cultural boards.

Artist Dray Evans, who attended Friday's community review, helped interview the public at multiple community meetings and took part in an artist discussion group to provide input for the Akron Cultural Plan. His painting of a chained-up tree with a tear coming out of its right eye was displayed at the art museum as a work he co-created via community input at those public events.

"The tree represents Akron and it depends on how you see Akron," said Evans, who explained that one side of the tree's face was sad, the side that was crying was upset and the tree's mouth was smiling and happy.

He called that the "three faces of Akron." Depending on whom you talk to, some people think there's nothing to do in Akron and others say there's something to do every day, he said. In his painting, people painted solid purple, blue, orange and turquoise are looking at the tree, representing separation among the city's people.

"You notice when you see events going on it's like the same people there. It's not diverse," said Evans, an Akron native who wants to see more work that "makes you think or raise your eyebrows."

Draft recommendations also include professional development for Akron artists as entrepreneurs to help them stay in town and earn a living. One suggestion was increasing access to affordable housing and studio space for artists.

Bullet points about offering artists everything from communications training to grant-writing training drew this excited response on a post-it note: "This is really good idea!"

Another post-it note suggested "use an empty/unused downtown building for subsidized/inexpensive live-work studios and family spaces."

Visual artist Amber Cullen of VIBE Collective was all for providing local artists with funding and tools to enable them to make a living in Akron.

"A lot of artists have been saying these things for years but it takes an institution like ArtsNow to be able to convince everybody else that what we've been saying for years is valid," she said. "I would love to see this plan divest from institutions and invest in community artists and grassroots artists."

In early interviews and as part of an artist-led focus group, her mission was to make sure local artists "on the margin" were represented, said Cullen, who calls herself an "artrepreneur" who works four jobs.

Sculptor Jeremy Jenkins of Akron said he didn't see new ideas in the recommendations.

"It feels very much like other arts assessments that have been done before. I'm not seeing anything that's really groundbreaking," he said. "I think a lot of them are just generalities and platitudes."

He said he'd like to see more collaboration among visual artists, musicians and the culinary world, which happens in larger cities.

"I would like to see a much larger culinary culture," including more food trucks, he said.

The next step in the Akron Cultural Plan is to create a rough draft, followed by the final draft in late 2019, which is meant to be an actionable plan to guide the city. ArtsNow Executive Director Nicole Mullet said the plan will determine first what Akron people want and then what resources are available to get there, including from corporations, businesses, foundations and audiences.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj