by Amanda Sedlak-Hevener
Richard Rogers created The Curated Storefront in order to fill a void in the city.
“Akron once had a vibrant downtown with many commercial attractions,” says Rogers. “Today, we have some great cultural assets—the Akron Art Museum, the Public Library, Summit Art Space, the University Akron’s Meyer’s Art Gallery, for instance—but there is still a lot of underutilized space that is ripe for transformation.”
Rogers’ first transformed spaces are the vacant storefronts throughout downtown Akron. He hopes that animating these areas will attract more foot traffic to downtown, giving people another reason to visit these once bustling streets.
“Ultimately, we hope that businesses, restaurants, and cultural institutions will recognize the potential of downtown and re-seed Main Street with vibrant cultural and commercial activity,” says Rogers.
There are currently three storefronts filled with art as a part of this Knight Arts Challenge grant-winning project. The High and Market Street Deck is lit up with signage art by Dana L. Depew. The United 1 Building features portraits by numerous local, national, and international artists, such as Michael Marras, Charles Beneke, Melissa Markwald, Ericailcane, Casey Vogt, and Vasily Shulzhenko. The O’Neil Building currently features photographs from another Knight Arts Challenge winner, Shane Wynn. Wynn’s artworks are part of her #Overlooked project, for which she photographs prominent Akron women in underutilized public spaces.
The artworks will be in place for a set period of time before they will be rotated out in favor of new exhibits. This keeps the area looking fresh and well-cared for, and provides even more artists with a chance to show their work off to the people of Akron.
In addition to the Knight Arts Challenge grant, the Curated Storefront currently receives funding through other local foundations, donations, and even a Kickstarter campaign. Finding the right (currently empty) storefronts hasn’t been easy, but it is possible.
“We have been very lucky to be able to work with a handful of very generous property owners who have made their spaces available for this project,” says Rogers. “The project has involved coordination across a variety of stakeholders—artists, property owners, a production team, etc. This has been challenging but rewarding.”
Rogers hopes that his project revives part of downtown, “creating a public forum for culture and a venue in which local artists can experiment, push new ideas, and engage with the history and urban fabric of our city.”
In ten years, Rogers would like to see the downtown area even more vibrant and filled with residents who appreciate everything that the city has to offer. He sums up the project in three words: “Art activates Akron.”
Amanda Sedlak-Hevener is a local historian and freelance writer. She has an M.A. from the University of Akron and is working on an M.L.I.S. at Kent State University.
(Photos by M. Sophie Franchi/The Devil Strip)