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Head of Summit County’s ArtsNow advocacy group says region’s arts and culture sector has bounced back

actors fence during entertainment at Akron Roundtable address
Kabir Bhatia
ArtsNow head Nicole Mullet spoke at the Akron Roundtable last year about the arts sector's slow return after the coronavirus pandemic. Still-masked during that event were Ryan Zarecki (left) and Natalie Steen with Ohio Shakespeare Festival. In 2022, Mullet says the sector has definitely rebounded.

The arts and culture sector in greater Akron has bounced back from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the head of Summit County’s arts advocacy group. Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow, will deliver her second State of the Arts address on Thursday.

Looking back over the past year, and ahead to 2023, Mullet said the sector continues its recovery with increased activity along Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls, Locks 3 and 4 in Downtown Akron and new spaces at the Akron Civic Theatre, which is hosting the State of the Arts event. During this year’s speech, she plans to share news about work that’s happening in the area of accessibility.

“[We’re] making sure that our arts community is a truly welcoming place for all people,” she said. “We're going to be really excited to make some announcements around the accessibility library that's specifically mentioned in the [2019 Akron/Summit Cultural Plan] and called out as a priority by the community.”

The plan suggests a library, curated in conjunction with social service agencies, that provides captioning devices, interpreter services and sensory resources which can be borrowed or rented.

Looking back

The 2019 Akron/Summit Cultural Plan was developed by ArtsNow and the City of Akron in conjunction with artists, cultural organizations and residents. Some of the goals include advocating for K-12 arts programs, encouraging investment in public art and developing groups like the Akron Black Artists Guild. The plan is now the "North Star" for Mullet and her team.

“That's where we're headed," she said. "Those priorities are what our community values [and] what Summit County residents care about. ArtsNow is one piece of that. We convene and we advocate, but full credit goes to our partners: the artist community and our nonprofit and for-profit partners who are making significant steps to advance the implementation of that plan. It was never intended to sit on the shelf.”

Last year, she hoped to build on Akron’s musical past in 2022 – something Mullet said is happening with the expansion of the Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival along Howard Street and into Cascade Locks.

The first State of the Arts address also included the news that the University of Akron would refurbish the historic Polsky Building into an artistic hub. Earlier this year, the Knight Foundation announced a $20 million investment in the project – which UA will match. Mullet said it’s the new “front door of the university” that will integrate campus with Downtown. The Art Deco building, which was Polsky’s flagship store, opened in 1930 and closed just before Christmas, 1978.

During ArtNow’s State of the Arts address, Mullet will also honor two Summit County arts advocates: Theresa Carter of the Akron Community Foundation and Gregg Mervis of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.