Community, nonprofit and arts leaders gathered at the Akron Art Museum Monday to celebrate a surge of funding that will help boost the local arts scene. At the event, leaders from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation celebrated $3 million in recently announced grants for a number of local arts institutions, as well as another $3 million that will help cultivate new arts ideas through a series of challenge grants over the next three years.
“You can see Akron has artistic momentum, and we wanted to help the community build on this momentum,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation. “That’s why we’re making this $6 million investment in the arts.”
The Akron Civic Theatre, Tuesday Musical Association, the Akron Symphony and Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop (YEPAW) will receive $500,000 in funding, while the Akron Art Museum will receive $1 million. These “anchor institutions” were chosen for their commitment to artistic excellence and audience engagement, according to Knight Foundation.
Starting in 2015, the Knight Arts Challenge will offer $3 million over three years in the form of challenge grants to the best arts ideas, whether they’re from individuals, groups or grassroots organizations.
The ideas generated in Knight’s designated cities can serve as “laboratories for the nation,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “We have evolved a set of program areas where we feel we have the greatest opportunity to leverage what is happening in the community for the greatest impact: those areas are talent, opportunity and engagement.”
Scholl said he’s seen more activity happening in the grass roots of the community, emphasizing the need for this arts challenge in Akron, which could draw ideas from all over the spectrum: from individual artists to organizations, for-profits and nonprofits, the challenge is open to anyone and any organization, regardless of size.
The contest has three simple rules: 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.
Artistic quality and innovation will be key to the arts challenge grants, said Ibargüen. “We really want art that matters, art that has impact,” he said. The selected projects also need to demonstrate audience engagement and sustainability. “We’re interested in how communities will generate sustainability for the artists themselves,” he added.
“The challenge invites everyone in the community with innovative ideas, and it’s our goal to help see them to action,” said Josh McManus, Akron program director for Knight Foundation. “It’s an ideas contest. We’re looking for out-of-the box projects. Start dreaming.”
The recent funding announcement comes on the heels of an arts and culture landscape study funded by GAR Foundation and Knight Foundation. The assessment outlined a number of challenges for the community and expressed the need for a stronger arts and culture community. About 75 percent of respondents said they attended an arts or cultural event in the past year, and young people and African-Americans both responded that they are looking for more arts events and opportunities relevant to them.
For information, visit KnightArts.org.