Akron arts groups get creative with grant funding


By Kerry Clawson - Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)



From filmed short plays to small lawn concerts to creative care packages for choreographers, Akron arts organizations continue to adapt their programs and projects during the coronavirus pandemic, now with support from Ohio Arts Council grants announced Tuesday.

Weathervane Playhouse is one of 36 Summit County organizations to receive OAC grants totaling $438,705. The theater received a $20,734 sustainability grant to support operations and programs.

Since Weathervane can’t put on plays for live audiences now, it’s producing short plays on film in unique locations — the Akron Canton Airport and Canal Park. Filming of three 10-minute plays begins this month in the series called “The Airport Plays” by Scott Mullen of Los Angeles.

The plays, to be filmed by Akron’s Todd Volkmer of Wasted Talent Media in the airport’s defunct Delta area, will feature small casts of up to three in “Baggage,” “Stuck” and “My Cellphone Says You’re My Soulmate.” “Judgment Call,” a three-man play about umpires by Frederick Stroppel of New York, will film in early September at the empty Canal Park.

The four films, created with volunteer actors and directors, will be released on YouTube in September and October. Weathervane will ask for donations during its first round of releases.

They’ll be released online in an alternating schedule with a musical cabaret series the theater is planning, which will feature Weathervane performers singing solos and duets, plus interviews with people who worked on the original musicals.

“I’m happy to be doing some art,” said Artistic Director Melanie Pepe.

Tuesday Musical Association, which had to put a hold on multiple concerts beginning in March, received a $17,747 sustainability grant. The organization — which moved the start of its performance season from September to February 2021 — will switch gears for the fall from the concert hall to a small concert series on the lawn outside its offices at the Barder House in West Akron.

Guests will bring their own chairs for three socially distanced concerts with local artists in a travel “passport” theme of world music. The one-hour concerts, which will run Sept. 6, 20 and Oct. 4, will feature the Russian Duo, Black Squirrel Winds and a percussion group formed by Matt Dudack that will perform Afro-Cuban Caribbean music.

“We don’ want to disappear from people’s perceptions or their radar,” said Executive Director Cyndee Snider.

At the National Center for Choreography-Akron, an $8,033 sustainability grant will support salaries and help host choreographers in Akron as COVID-19 restrictions allow, possibly not until spring. In the meantime, Executive/Artistic Director Christy Bolingbroke is supporting artists remotely through “Residency-In-A-Box,” a creative care package she’ll launch this weekend to inspire choreographers in their own home spaces. The box includes an Akron-centric bandana, coffee, tumbler and locally designed playing cards with creative prompts for dancemakers.

“It’s been fun to make something, so you’re not just always in a crisis mode,” Bolingbroke said of the boxes, which can be ordered online at nccakron.org/box.

NCCAkron also received an $11,346 ArtsNEXT grant for innovative and experimental projects to continue work on its augmented reality ArtSpeaks cellphone technology. It brings a performer’s photo from a hard copy performance program alive, with its subject talking via a short designated video link, all through scanning the photo with your phone.

NCCAkron did a test of the technology through an OAC grant two years ago. Now it’s working to share the technology with dance companies, including Verb Ballets, and to develop its own app for it with Bill and Grace Myers of New Territory LLC.

‘Outside the Box’

Curated Storefront continues to think “Outside the Box” with a $2,687 ArtsNEXT grant it received for the next phase of its mural installation on a transportable shipping container in Akron’s Northside District.

Curated Storefront recently ended a multimedia public art installation with Akron artist GrandTheft Rabbit (Joshua Uriah Page) that featured his mural outside as well as him painting in a studio inside. Next week, the organization will have artists El Mac (Miles MacGregor) and Aise Bourne from Los Angeles create new murals to install outside the box, the same week those artists will collaborate on a huge mural at Lock 4 outside the Akron Civic Theatre.

Artist HoxxoH’s (Doug Hoekzema) of Miami’s mural is currently being mounted and artists Bahkti of Los Angeles, Marlin Peterson of Seattle and Peeta of Italy will also be sending murals in the next couple months.

Curated Storefront also received an OAC ArtSTART grant for $2,377 to continue to hire artists to create artwork in downtown Akron’s empty storefronts. The next phase will feature 30 artists in 12 buildings and three outdoor spaces.

“It’s allowed us to keep the lights on in all of our sites and to employ artists” during the pandemic, Executive Director Rick Rogers said of the grant.

At the Civic

The Akron Civic Theatre received a $92,441 sustainability grant that will allow the shuttered theater to get back to programming more quickly once the state allows it to reopen. When it does, it will be operating under capacity restrictions that will reduce earned income.

“It [the grant] will then provide some of that gap funding that’s going to be necessary for us to get back up on our feet before we’re able to get to full capacity,” said Executive Director Howard Parr.

The OAC grant also supports the Civic hosting Live Virtually programming online four days a week, which has reached close to 600,000 since late March.

Symphony interlude

Instead of the community coming to the orchestra concert hall, the Akron Symphony Orchestra will go to the community with its Interlude Season, focused on education and outreach. A $44,812 sustainability grant from the OAC will support the new effort over the next 10 to 12 months.

Rather than large concerts, smaller ensemble performances will be offered in a variety of accessible settings through partnerships with Akron Public Schools, the Akron Art Museum Akron-Summit County Public Library, Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank the Akron Zoo, Gilly’s Music Room and more.

And instead of the orchestra going dark, musicians will be paid for August through May. The musicians will be available to teachers to engage their students and also for community members to meet or work with online.

“It’s just making the musicians available to the community in a tangible way that we hadn’t been able to do before,” said Executive Director Paul Jarrett.

The orchestra also will produce digital educational content online for classroom teachers, music teachers and adult education. All Interlude offerings will be free.

Museum and Rubber City

Interim Executive Director Jon Fume of the Akron Art Museum said the museum planned in its budget for the second installment of a three-year OAC sustainability grant, which is $80,700 this year. The grant, a 6 percent reduction compared to previous years, will support operating expenses for the museum, which reopened July 16.

Attendance at the museum since reopening three days each week has been 256 adults and 61 children, Fiume said Thursday. The museum, which kept the smaller McDowell Gallery closed for the reopening, plans to open it soon.

Small professional company Rubber City Theatre, which brought its furloughed staff of four back in May with the help of a Paycheck Protection Program loan and used part of an Economic Injury Disaster Loan to catch up with rent payments, received a $4,000 OAC loan to support operations. The theater has pushed its new season back to April, 2021 and plans to do a virtual performance of “A Christmas Carol” in December as well as an apprentice capstone project show online in January.

The OAC’s statewide funding for 2021 awards is $3 million less than originally appropriated, due to the effects of the pandemic on the state’s budget. The OAC has offset part of the unexpected reduction with more than $1.5 million combined from the National Endowment for the Arts state partnership award and CARES Act funding through the NEA.

For the full list of arts grant recipients, see https://bit.ly/3fDDPKK/.

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By Kerry Clawson

Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

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