27 Akron arts projects win $1 million in Knight Arts Challenge Akron

Press Release

March 15, 2016


Using Akron as their canvas, winners bring art to the city’s neighborhoods

AKRON, Ohio – (March 15, 2016) – Launching novel ideas to bring art to Akron’s many neighborhoods, 27 projects tonight were named winners of the city’s first Knight Arts Challenge. The winners, which emerged from more than 500 applications, will share $1 million.

A project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the challenge is a three-year effort to fund the best ideas for engaging and enriching the city through the arts.

“Art can help define and lift the soul, helping to create a sense of place and binding us to each other and to our community,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “Here in Akron, where Knight Foundation was founded, our hope is that the arts will continue to build community, in neighborhoods all across the city.” 

The winners span a range of neighborhoods – from downtown to North Hill and Highland Square – and include big and small efforts, from both individuals and the city’s largest arts institutions. They range from a group of local musicians, led by Theron Brown, who will organize a downtown jazz festival, to the Akron Art Museum, which will create an art lending library so that more residents can engage with works at home.

Many of the winners will use the city as their canvas, breathing new life into Akron’s public spaces: Creating artist galleries and studio space inside a series of refurbished railway cars, turning vacant downtown storefronts into spaces for art displays, and launching an outdoor art gallery in the Northside Arts District with a series of large-scale works rotating each year.

Other projects provide artists and residents with opportunities to strengthen their skills and promote self expression: Turning a garage bay at the Akron Symphony into a stage for community jam sessions; helping Bhutanese women improve their traditional crafts and market their products; providing a platform for people to share their original poetry and have it displayed in public spaces, and creating a pop-up studio for glass making.

A full list of winners is available here and online at kng.ht/artsakron.

Knight Foundation launched the challenge after noticing a growing arts and culture scene locally. There are just three rules for applying: 1) The idea must be about the arts; 2) The project must take place in or benefit Akron; and 3) The grant recipients must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.

Over the past two years, Knight has invested $11 million in the Akron arts: $3 million is committed to the Knight Arts Challenge, and $8 million covering both a new national choreography center at the University of Akron and funding for other anchor arts institutions. A 2014 survey commissioned by Knight and the GAR Foundation crystallized the decision to make this commitment, finding a significant demand for arts and culture, with 75 percent of respondents having attended an arts or cultural event in the past year.

“Earlier this year we asked a question – ‘What’s your best idea for the arts?’ – and received an outstanding number of submissions. There was a pent up demand in Akron for more arts and culture, and Knight Arts Challenge applicants came through with ideas to make Akron an even more vibrant place to live,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation. “We hope that these winners will continue to strengthen the arts ecosystem in Akron, so that arts and culture will thrive into the future.”

Knight Foundation will launch the second Knight Arts Challenge on April 4, again offering a share of $1 million to winners.  Knight Foundation will host Community Conversations in Akron the week of April 11-15, where Knight staff will answer questions about the challenge and guide applicants. A schedule is online at KnightArts.org.

“In Akron, we’re experiencing a new era of possibility – with new leadership emerging across the city to take a fresh look at our challenges. The Knight Arts Challenge winners are a part of that movement – and will help shape the next Akron,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Akron program director for Knight Foundation. 

For more on Knight Foundation’s arts initiative and to view a full list of Knight Arts Challenge winners, visit www.KnightArts.org. Connect with Knight Foundation on Facebook and Twitter using #KnightArts, and on Instagram.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

Winners of the first Knight Arts Challenge Akron

Project: Akron Art Library
Applicant: Akron Art Museum
Award: $67,200

Introducing new audiences to collecting art by starting an art rental program, where any resident with a library card can check out works to display in their home

Project: Akron Songwriters Workshop
Applicant: Akron Civic Theatre
Award: $18,000

Promoting the art of songwriting by hosting a weeklong summer songwriters workshop for Akron residents

Project: Theaster Gates on Community Revitalization, Entrepreneurship and The Arts
Applicant: Akron Roundtable
Award: $17,500

Exploring the role of arts in building community by bringing Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates to speak in Akron and meet with artists and entrepreneurs

Project: Akron Street Art Project
Applicant: Akron Street Art Project
Award: $25,000

Enlivening and attracting new people to downtown through public art projects

Project: The Cappies (Critics and Awards Program for High School Students)
Winner: Allisyn Just
Award: $15,000

Building the next generation of art critics by having local journalists train high school theater and journalism students in writing reviews, and then honoring the best work at an awards show

Project: BLU Jazz+ Master Class
Applicant: BLU Jazz+ Akron
Award: $74,500

Bringing training to local jazz musicians through a series of master class workshops at BLU Jazz+ led by top musicians

Project: The Glass Menagerie Through the Prism of Autism
Applicant: Center for Applied Drama and Autism
Award: $12,000

Providing audiences with a greater understanding of the challenges facing people with autism with a theater experience that shows what life is like on the spectrum

Project: The Heart of Glass
Applicant: Chad Mason
Award: $50,000

Offering creative opportunities with a mobile glass studio that travels to schools and events

Project: The Optics of Memory
Recipient: Diane Davis-Sikora and Kasumi
Award: $37,000

Enlivening downtown by building a public art series based on 2011 Guggenheim Fellow Kasumi’s exhibition “The Optics of Memory,” a multimedia piece about the formation of memory and collective consciousness

Project: Girls Rock Camp Akron
Applicant: Dylan Yellowless
Award: $20,000

Fostering the next generation of musicians by bringing the Girls Rock Camp summer camp, where girls 10-16 write and perform songs, to Akron

Project: Garage Band
Applicant: Greater Akron Musical Association
Award: $7,000

Activating a space for artists by turning the Akron Symphony’s garage bay into a stage for local musicians to perform in open-mic events and jam sessions

Project: Highland Square Film Festival
Applicant: Highland Square Neighborhood Association
Award: $6,650

Telling Akron stories through a film festival of local works

Project: Akron Soul Train
Recipient: Kasota Artist Management
Award: $150,000

Supporting the work of grassroots artists by launching Akron Soul Train, a series of refurbished rail cars and shipping containers  that will be turned into housing, galleries and studio space

Project: Nepali Applause: An Open Air Market and Performance Festival
Applicant: Katie Beck
Award: $10,000

Celebrating the rich history of the Nepali-American population in North Hill with a bilingual variety show featuring art, dance and music

Project: Developing Alternatives for Women in New Communities (DAWN)
Applicant: Manju Rastogi
Award: $6,410

Helping Bhutanese women who came to Northeast Ohio as refugees improve their sewing and craft-making abilities, and market their products

Project: Nightlight Productions
Applicant: The Nightlight Cinema
Award: $20,000

Improving the cinema experience by purchasing equipment that will allow the Nightlight to create broadcast-quality content, including Skype-based Q&A sessions with directors and filmmakers, high-quality pre-show content, promotional materials and more

Project: Dance.r.evolution
Winner: Neos Dance Theatre
Award: $40,000

Engaging new audiences by bringing together classically trained ballet dancers with local hip-hop dancers, graffiti artists and urban/pop musicians to create new work

Project: Intensive Music Classes for Akron’s Very Young
Applicant: Northeast Ohio Family Music Society
Award: $5,000

Fostering the next generation of artists and arts advocates by taking the Ohio Conservatory’s intensive music class into local classrooms and introducing 4- to 7-year-olds to all the elements of music.

Project: The Curated Storefront
Applicant: Richard Rogers/Woodside management
Award: $100,000

Bringing more art into the city by activating unused storefronts in downtown with multimedia art installations that showcase local and regional artists

Project: #overlooked
Applicant: Shane Wynn
Award: $5,000

Producing a series of photographic portraits of a cross section of women leaders in Akron set against the backdrop of underused public spaces, as a way to celebrate their accomplishments while empowering them to improve the city’s landscape

Project: dreamUP
Applicant: Traci Buckner and Dreama Whitfield
Award: $20,000

Bringing together a diverse group of women in a series of workshops where they will create artistic pieces that reflect their individual life visions and goals

Project: Northside Arts District Outdoor Gallery
Applicant: Testa Companies
Award: $22,850

Strengthening the Northside Arts District by creating an outdoor art gallery with digital projections on the side of buildings and yearlong displays of visual art mounted outdoors

Project: Akron’s Toy Marble Railways
Recipient: The American Toy Marble Museum
Award: $24,000

Celebrating Akron as the birthplace of the world’s first mass-produced toy – the clay marble – with an interactive, kinetic, sculpture garden of toy marble railways at Lock 3 Park and other public spaces

Project: Art Bomb Brigade
Applicant: The University of Akron Myers School of Art
Award: $45,000

Creating an “Art Bomb Brigade,” a traveling group of artists that visits neighborhoods in need of a facelift and engages the community in public art-making

Project: Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival
Applicant: Theron Brown/Open Tone Music
Award: $75,000

Building on Akron’s musical legacy by launching a downtown jazz festival that features local and national talent

Project: The Electric Pressure Cooker Presents… Bigger Than a Breadbox
Applicant: Wandering Aesthetics
Award: $75,000

Providing a platform for Akron’s artists through Bigger Than a Breadbox, a quarterly vaudeville show of local talent that will travel to different neighborhoods

Project: Traveling Stanzas: Writing Across Borders
Recipient: Wick Poetry Center
Award: $125,000

Sharing the voices of Akron by enabling residents to submit a short video of an original poem, some of which will be displayed on posters on local buses and in public spaces



Alan Ashby, WhiteSpace Creative, [email protected], 330-762-9320

Marika Lynch, Communications Consultant, Knight Foundation, [email protected], 305-908-2677