Akron, Ohio, also known as Rubber City because of the tire industry, is located in the Rust Belt, that economically shocked part of our country that saw the steel, car, plastic, and polymer industry money flood in and right back out again with just as much force. The Goodyear Blimp still flies around here and the mansions still line the streets in certain neighborhoods but the devastation is palpable. As you drive around various parts of Akron there are overgrown parking lots, empty weedy squares where houses once stood, and broken windows in hollow warehouses. I think Akron could identify with Eric Clapton as he sings "Once I lived a life of a millionaire..." Even the river still struggles a bit with healthy levels but has come a long way from the blaze of a dump site it was in 1969. Much like the city.
Amid these gloomy facts are glimmers of flames. That is not Akron's only legacy. Not at all. The rocks and parks and trails and trees are gorgeous. The natural resources are delightful. The Cuyahoga River is rushing and most definitely not on fire anymore. The buildings built in Akron's heyday still stand and command reverence along brick streets. New buildings glimmer with hope for more progress towards a healthy and vibrant community. And, even without the money, tourism, and packed streets of other cities, Akron's arts and crafts scene is active, innovative, and entrepreneurial.
Not surprisingly, The Downtown Akron ArtWalk as well as another recent event called PorchRokr showed an abundance of rust, found objects, industrial souvenirs, and steam punk vibes. But usually not in some kitsch angsty way. I got the feeling that ideas reigned over depression, spirit over gloom. Cool things are happening here.
Erin and I enter the scene. People and energy filled spaces as we followed our map and the delightfully bubble-like stickers from the warehouse studios and Crafty Mart of Summit Art Space to the funky upstairs Ro3 Gallery. The atmosphere was down to earth and inviting. People were talkative, hanging out, meeting each other, showing each other artwork and eating and drinking. I downloaded the Akron Art Prize app for the evening where I could find pieces on display and save them to my list. I had 5 votes to use and I wanted to be sure to choose my top 5 favorites.
Restaurants, music venues, shops, and galleries were all on our map for the evening. We covered as much as we could and could've seen more. A trolley drove about picking up and dropping off happy art seekers. Akron Glass Works was a highlight since they were hard at work in the hot studio. A human anatomy book cut into topographical incisions also caught our eye. We meandered into Urban Eats, a coffee shop/cafe with large plywood pieces on the wall holding graphic black and white stencils. There were multiple paint nights going on in public spaces, giving people a chance to see and experience the process of making. Or remaking. Like Akron.
Erin and I made our way back to our car and passed a long line of young people waiting for a flashy club to open. The combination of events over the course of the evening surprised us both and prompted Erin to exclaim, "This is actually Akron!" #ActuallyAkron is my new hashtag for the city. #ActuallyAkron is pretty cool. The Akron Art Prize will be chosen and given out at a later event. I'm definitely going.