Illuminating Akron: Curated Storefront
For a city to be considered alive, a certain number of lights must be shining at night. I am sure there is an equation that factors in the size and population and spits out the number of watts necessary to achieve the appropriate lumens required for an “Alive” rating.
Two years ago, Downtown Akron began shifting into that category when recently retired businessman Rick Rogers and his mighty crew founded the project known as Curated Storefront. With the help of designer Courtney Cable and installers Casey Vogt and Steve Levey, Rogers is adding life to Akron’s Downtown.
On March 15, 2016, Rogers was awarded a matching $100,000 Knight Foundation grant for his proposal to curate art into numerous empty storefronts in the city. Rogers’s team has arrangements with building owners to use their vacant or underused front spaces.
To date, they have curated a total of 78 hand-selected artists into these storefronts. The artists’ installations are for 4-6-month intervals usually, but the timelines vary per building. They currently have arrangements with more than 30 building owners, but the team is continuously exploring the urban campus for new spaces.
I took a walk with Courtney Cable on a brisk October morning and toured current installations. We met at the O’Neil’s building where Rita Montlack or Rita Rock Star as Cable called her, installed The Importance of Being Windows. Montlack’s Artist statement reiterates the necessity of the Curated Storefront Project. It is large printed collaged documentation of Montlack’s lifelong fascination with storefronts. She chose 48 local and international archival digital prints that she computer manipulated. Collaged together, they become beautiful flowing watercolor-like images. In front of her pictures, near the glass, Montlack has small pedestals with spray bottles of Windex. It is like a brief commercial interruption, as if to say “These 48 storefronts brought to you today by Windex. Windex, for a streak-free shine.” Her windows were clean and shiny. In Montlack’s homage to storefronts everywhere she recalls the excitement of going downtown Cleveland to window shop especially during the holidays as a child. Historically storefronts have been a means for city centers to draw foot traffic, which gives more validation for this project.
Across the street at The Law Building, 165 South Main Street, John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center 10th Grade Biology Students are displaying huge photos taken of microscopic images including infectious diseases, tissues, bacteria, and plants. They have been studying these tiny beauties at the Learning Center for the last five years. In each window, they have printed and hung two different photos side by side. These activate the windows with color and movement. If you have ever wondered what Neisseria Gonorrhoeae looks like up close and personal without antibiotics, now is your chance to see it downtown.
Most of the building owners donate the electricity to keep the installations illuminated. The negotiations with the landlords vary as the situation within the building changes. Two of the original storefronts in buildings for sals have been purchased, adding the Akronym Brewery and United Way storefronts to downtown Akron. (The Akronym Brewery bought the building that housed the Curated Storefront’s second installation, which was by Cleveland artist Dana Depew.)
Down the street at 31-37 North Main Street, is Pittsburgh-based artist Ian Brill’s programmatic light Installation Reverie. This Animated installation illuminates 46 windows with 1610 LED cells. It activates the entire face of a building, and the patterns of lights change and learn. Video is available on Brill’s Facebook page: link Brill has a second performative, electronic installation, called Trunk, at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. Strategically placed, this is an interactive light tunnel that library patrons can experience but never the same way twice.
Casey Vogt and Steve Levey, who are part of the team for Curated Storefront, are painters and a substantial multimedia presence in multiple locations downtown. They collaborated to add a pop of color to Bowery and Main Street using DayGlo paint, colorful tape, and black lights. The use of DayGlo paint is a symptom of having Mark Soppeland as an instructor at the University of Akron; it is a known fact. You will find the dynamic duo at 156 South Main Street with a massive light installation called Ribo-flavin Homage to Dan Flavin illuminated only at night . The duo has one last storefront using white sheets and LED lights in the Osterman building called, RGB.
In addition to the Knight Foundation matching grant, Curated Storefront has received funding from GAR Foundation, Akron Community Foundation, Rogers Family, Foundation, Bidwell Foundation, Kohl Foundation, Robert and Alyssa Briggs, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, Huntington Bank Foundation, TRIAD Communications, Inc, Edmund Sawan, Demetros Charitable Trust, Haslinger Family Foundation, and anonymous donors. The project is currently scheduled through March of 2019.
One of my favorite storefronts is in the Polsky building by Eva Kwong. Kwong’s animated vessels are juxtaposed with her large digital prints. This storefront is obsessively decorated with an enormous number of dots that transfix and relax the viewer. Kwong told Cable that the dots reference bacteria and handwashing. The digital prints create an infinite environment flowing into space, from which the ceramic vessels seem to have emerged. The lights, colors, and patterns create a flow for the eye until you realize the forms are looking at you. Who is viewing whom?
A set of three storefront windows at the Polsky Building’s North Upper Hallway, 225 South Main Street exhibit the work of the seven past Fellowship recipients of a local Nonprofit called Akron Soul Train. The cast of characters includes Michelle Droll, Gabe Gott, Eva Kwong, Jenniffer Omaitz, John Sokol, Stephen Tomasko, and Danny Volk. Akron Soul Train describes itself as an artist residency village connecting and empowering the community and artists by granting fellowships that provide resources for all creative disciplines, thereby fostering a more vibrant downtown Akron—a vision that is complementary to that of Curated Storefront.
In the Birth & Death Building, 368 South Main Street you will find Dominic Falcione’s Masking Tape Mural. Falcione used multicolored masking tape and razor blades to create geometric lines and the illusion of depth and movement. He has the storefront backlit with changing colors giving new life to this lifeless building.
The Curated Storefront team actively seeks new and different storefronts to utilize. Many of the ones that are live now are slotted for de-installation at the end of the month, making way for new installations. This project is doing so much to bring attention and life to downtown Akron. Each storefront is an exclamation that this city is loved. Put on some warm clothes and your walking shoes; this city-wide gallery is a must see. You can also hop a free trolley ride during Third Thursday courtesy of Downtown Akron Partnership.
A complete list of current Artists and locations are here.
A map of all the locations is here.