League connects Akron, Ohio, residents with stories of gratitude

communities / Article

As people across the country shopped for bargains at big box stores and shopping malls the weekend after Thanksgiving, the Akron League of Creative Interventionists headed to a local market to capture grateful thoughts.

Akronites, it turns out, are grateful for a lot, including kittens and pancakes. But mostly, they said they are grateful for each other.

It was one of three gratitude-themed events the league organized in late November and early December.

Each month the group builds an event or events around a theme set by the league’s founder, San-Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks. Knight Foundation provided more than $55,000 for Franks to create similar community connections in four Knight cities: Akron, Detroit, Philadelphia and Macon, Ga. November’s theme was Gratitude. December’s theme is Warmth, and January’s is Change.

On Nov. 29 and 30, outside a market for local artists in Akron called the Crafty Mart, the league set up a soapbox. They asked passersby to join them on the soapbox and shout what they were grateful for into a large homemade megaphone (made by league member Christina Wagner). Children and others, if they were too shy, were invited to chalk their thoughts on the sidewalk, said David Swirsky, leader of the Akron League of Creative Interventionists.

“Of all the people we talked to, half stood up on the soapbox and did it,” Swirsky said. 

Many people stopped. Some stared. Others struck up a conversation.

Among the shoppers were a few local celebrities. Tony Troppe, an Akron developer whose company, Akron Apex, has been redeveloping landmark buildings in the city. Troppe offered a lengthy speech about gratitude and Akron pride. Brit Charek, founder of the Crafty Mart, stopped by and offered to share the league’s video of the event with her social network, Swirsky said.

Later on Saturday, after the sun went down, the league members got together again to share a slideshow of gratitudes on the walls of Akron buildings. They’d been gathering the thankful thoughts for about a week on social media. The slideshow had more than 50 responses; some responses were so detailed, they required multiple slides.

A week later, another member, Eartha Goodwin, convinced the Akron Art Museum to allow them to show the slideshow inside and on an exterior wall of the museum, Swirsky said.

Friendsgiving potluck gathering. Photo courtesy of the Akron League of Creative Interventionists.

Then there was the Friendsgiving potluck dinner that brought together 70 people on Dec. 3, including league members, their parents, children and friends as well as members of the Akron Cooking Coalition. Held at their unofficial home base, the wheat grass farm Pure Intentions, the Thanksgiving-like feast was mostly vegetarian.

“The food was fantastic,” said Swirsky, who also shared a slideshow of the league’s work over the last few months and explained the league’s mission to the crowd. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked to that many people before. A lot of people came up to me and were really happy to hear about it.”

And they wanted to get involved. The proof is in the league’s Facebook group, which has grown from 182 members in late October to more than 250 now.

Activity on the page has increased with members sharing even more photos, events and ideas. Gearing up for cold weather months, some members have suggested ice and snow-themed ideas. Many have been using the hash tag #createakron as a signature to their enthusiastic posts.

The league is planning its warmth-themed December intervention to spark warmth and comfort in public spaces and interactions with one another. Swirsky said the league will participate in the First Night Akron New Year’s Eve celebration, although the plans are still taking shape.

Susan Ruiz Patton is a freelancer writer based in Northeast Ohio.

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