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Summit County's first State of the Arts address details successes and opportunities

Ryan Zarecki (left) and Natalie Steen with Akron-based Ohio Shakespeare Festival provided some of the pre-show entertainment at Thursday's Akron Roundtable address by ArtsNow head Nicole Mullet. [Kabir Bhatia /  WKSU]
Ryan Zarecki (left) and Natalie Steen with Akron-based Ohio Shakespeare Festival duel in a hallway for the Akron Roundtable

The Akron Roundtable hosted Summit County’s first-ever “State of the Arts” address Thursday looking at how arts and culture offerings have impacted the region.

Surrounded by singers, poets, musicians, actors, sculptors, authors, and even animals from the Zoo, the head of ArtsNow, Nicole Mullet, detailed how the promise of the 2019 Akron Cultural Plan has been fulfilled. She said she’s particularly proud of the Black Artists Guild, formed earlier this year, and the establishment of an Advisory Board for Diversity.

Looking to the future, Mullet hopes to solidify funding for an arts sector which, financially, is still in recovery mode from the coronavirus pandemic. And she also plans to build on the city’s musical past.

“There’s been lots of conversation around how we take the history of the Akron Sound and advance it. People across the country are paying attention to Akron," she said.

"I think what we’ve seen is the very unique sound of music come out of Akron, and we always have. It’s innovating. It’s changing, [and] it’s changing because of collaboration between our artist community and our musicians. There’s now lots of ways for people to get out and hear local music."

Mullet also cited projects at Barberton’s Magical Theatre Co., along Cuyahoga Falls’ Front Street, and the Akron Civic Theater as examples of the success of the Akron Cultural Plan.

During the speech, Mullet also announced that the University of Akron’s arts programs will be getting a new outlet downtown in a historic space.

The school has owned the former Polsky’s department store for decades, using it for archives storage, the audiology program, and some business classes.

But a $7.5 million makeover is in the works to re-open the building’s Main Street entrance. University President Gary Miller says it’s a way to better integrate with the renaissance of downtown.

“This will consolidate some of our arts opportunities. We still have great art facilities on campus, and we always will," he said. Our plans are to put some public performance space, some art gallery space, maybe some retail space, and a little bit of [space] for students to sell their art.”

Miller adds that they’re working with architects now and hope to complete the project next year. The flagship Polsky’s store opened in the Art Deco building in 1930 and closed just before Christmas, 1978.

The building also currently houses Akron Public Schools’ Early College program, which provides graduates with a high school diploma and a two-year degree.

Nicole Mullet’s Akron Roundtable address airs at 8 p.m. Dec.16 on WKSU. Here's a look back at Akron's importance to popular music is in this video detailing Simon & Garfunkel's 1983 reunion , which began at the Akron Rubber Bowl:

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