Leadership team shares plans for completion of village, putting artists to work
— For local artists, leveraging their life’s work and passion into a sustainable career can often be difficult. Enter Akron Soul Train, which is building a village that offers artists a place to work, a stipend and eventually, a place to stay, in downtown Akron’s Northside District.
Shortly after announcing its three upcoming artist fellowships for the 2017-2018 season, Akron Soul Train has added two more fellows for spring of 2018, along with a partial fellowship this fall.
“We were so excited by the quality of artists that applied that we got approval from the board to use it and extend a few more opportunities,” says Amy Mothersbaugh, Akron Soul Train’s creative conductor/director.
The artist’s village is expected to be completed in November, just in time to feature the work of installation artist Michelle Droll, photographer Stephen Tomasko and painter and installation artist Jenniffer Omaitz. While construction is pending, Mothersbaugh says the program will continue as planned, with the artists working from their home studios and conducting workshops in places like the Akron Art Museum.
The finished Akron Soul Train will be replete with studio and gallery space and a chance for residents to see the artistic process up close in this wooded nook of downtown Akron.
The project — which also includes Natalie Grieshammer (development and programming manager) and Mothersbaugh’s friend and business partner Nancy Brennan — was launched with funding from the Knight Arts Challenge and matched by local funders and will take root in the quickly developing Northside district downtown, near the Cascade Lofts and Cascade Locks Park.
The program will reopen Canal Street, which once had significant ties to a booming jazz and cultural scene, along with formerly serving as a safe zone for African-Americans traveling through Akron from the South. The site also is tied to bike and hike trails and connected to a nearby train station.
In the meantime, the fellowships awarded to this point have gone to artists with studio space, like John Sokol, last year’s fellow whose inclusion was met with significant success.
“Akron’s being really great and Akron’s venues are really supportive of us coming in but until we have our village, we’re like an orphan, asking, can we come play in your yard?” says Mothersbaugh, who envisions a completed Akron Soul Train that encompasses many different artistic disciplines. For example, one of the artists added to the fellowship roster this upcoming season is Danny Volk, another Knight Arts Challenge winner who’s bringing his popular YouTube show to Akron, along with writer Gabriel Gott and ceramic artist Eva Kwong.
Mothersbaugh says Kwong and Gott will likely be the first fellows to actually stay on site. “This will be the definitive show where you can walk in and see an artist in their studio, at the village,” she adds. “(Gott and Kwong) have happily agreed to it, and when we told them that they’ll be our first resident artists, they were thrilled.”
Grieshammer, who’s also a member of local band The Dreemers, says one of her favorite aspects of the project is the potential of bringing artists from other places into Akron and making Akron an artistic destination. “We’re putting Akron on the map, so people from Brooklyn and LA can come in and say, ‘this is actually really cool.’”
She says she’s especially enticed by helping to teach outside communities about Akron artists. “It can offer a lot of really interesting collaborations and good ideas.”
While the initial artist studios are part of the plan, Mothersbaugh and Grieshammer have much larger ideas in store, with the goal of lifting up other artists, not necessarily themselves.
“We would like to have at least five residential studios on site, gallery space and community space where we can do performances and have large community events,” says Mothersbaugh. “We foresee having a cafe, restaurant and food options and there is a space where the Brennans are thinking we should have some offices and residential space, permanently, all year long.”
The location’s proximity to a train station means the village will be handicapped and stroller accessible, she adds.
Also in the possible plans for the future is a focus on emerging artists. “In the future, we would like to have a segment for emerging artists, for brand new artists who want a shot, who need to be in that professional atmosphere,” Mothersbaugh says.
She would also like to eventually increase the fellowship period. “Our dream is to be able to increase the amount of time that a fellowship lasts. At Mattress Factory (in Pittsburgh), they average about nine months for a fellowship. We would love to keep the studio residences full at all times, that would be the ideal. We would also like to increase the amount we can offer in a stipend.”
Mothersbaugh will lead a workshop called Abandoned Art; Rock Painting, Saturday, Aug. 12, 11 a.m. at Cascade Locks Park, on West North Street. Akron Soul Train also will participate in the upcoming Highland Square PorchRokr Festival, Saturday, Aug. 19.