Akron Soul Train Offers Funding, Focus, Support, and Exposure to Regional Artists Through New Residency Program
“The world doesn’t need more art,” Michelle Droll tells me. “It needs more artists.”
At work Michelle pulls virtual systems apart and puts them back together. At night, she comes home and does the same with her old art, creating “sculptural kebabs” out of brightly colored pieces of foam, occasional ceramic parts, and bits of paint itself. Through each iteration, Michelle exposes and covers every surface, even those that end up hidden inside and next to other interior pieces. At the same time, she’s careful to not cancel out old juxtapositions that are still interesting or can be incorporated into the context of the new work. This process leads to amazingly detailed assemblages that feel like cartoon alien artifacts, or informational prototypes with an exotically plasticized neon color coding system.
Working on a tarp to ensure that even the tiniest pieces of past works are maintained in her closed system, Michelle’s churning process is a mediation on the unglamorous reality many artists are all too familiar with: after a show, much of the work comes back home with you. Past work builds up and literally gets in the way of making new work. Thinking of the past artworks as raw materials for the next masterpiece is a very compelling solution to that problem.
During the month of October, Michelle was able to ponder the past and assemble the future in her home studio during the day, every day, with a fellowship from Akron Soul Train. She says it’s transformed the way she works and energized her practice. “Akron Soul Train legitimatized my practice in the minds of my employers. I couldn’t just take a month off to make art without this credential.”
Akron Soul Train is the brainchild of artist and Studio 2091 owner Amy Mothersbaugh and fundraiser and Kasota Artist Management founder Nancy Brennan with the goal of establishing artist residencies in live-work spaces on site at 1000 Canal St., right at the nexus of multiple trails, including the Towpath and the Canalway, the burgeoning Northside District, and downtown. They received a big green light from the Knight Foundation in its first round of Akron Arts Challenge grants, a matching grant that ensures recipients are able to double their Knight funding through other channels before they launch. Soul Train has moved at relative lightning speed, supporting their first fellow last fall, about six months from when the grant winners were announced. And until their facility is up and running, they’re continuing to sponsor local artists each spring and fall with fellowships to work full time in their own studios.
“It’s a unique experience, being in my own studio during this project,” admits Jenniffer Omaitz. Jenniffer’s work negotiates the materiality of paint and sculptural elements with the abstract ideas of geometries of people, particularly makers, and the intersections of literature and living. Sculptural works are more experiential, in both their creation and their viewing, and Jenniffer’s work both revels in and transcends the flatness of two dimensional materials, creating arcs, lines, and everywhere movement.
Playing with size and scale, mimicking buildings, constructions and architecture, Jenniffer’s work from the Akron Soul Train fellowship will also be paired with unique collaborative works inspired by her many conversations and studio visits with various other artists, as well as the interesting dialogues of raw materials exchanged between collaborators to be assembled into sculptural mates for her series of paintings. Jenniffer has worked to gather eclectic, story based narrative material to inspire the thinking behind these assemblages as well, drawing inspiration from the studio spaces constructed by other makers to inform this unique series.
Akron Soul Train sets up all sorts of dialogues between local artists, giving fellows a remarkable boost in exposure, and bolstering Akron’s identity as a place that fosters innovation and creation as a lifestyle. All four of Akron Soul Train’s Fall 2017 Fellows, including photographer Stephen Tomasko and artist and interviewer Danny Volk, as well as Michelle Droll and Jenniffer Omaitz, will display the fruits of their autumnal labors at the Inaugural Winter Soulstice on Dec 9th at Summit Artspace.
As for their own facility, Akron Soul Train is aiming for two artist studios, a gallery, and an event space to open in time for FRONT International at the beginning of July, with another three artist live-work spaces to open later on. But even if the facility is not yet open, Akron Soul Train will have a special FRONT fellow this summer, in addition to the two Spring 2018 Fellows and four Fall 2018 Fellows. Applications for Fall Fellows will open in early Spring of 2018, and be announced June 30th.
The Winter Soulstice will take place at Summit Artspace, 140 E Market St. in Akron, Dec 9th, 2017 from 5-8 pm, with VIP tickets for the 5-6 pm hour, and a free Open Exhibition from 6-8 pm. Akron Soul Train will ultimately be located at 1000 Canal St. in Akron. For more information, check out akronsoultrain.org