Arts & Culture Patron: Brian Fortney

Brian Fortney is a lifelong Akron resident. He was raised by his mom in Ellet, and she taught him at an early age that the world was a far larger place, and that he could be anything he wanted to be if he pushed hard enough. She also taught him that “to those much is given, much is expected.” A graduate of the University of Mount Union and of Baldwin Wallace (MBA), he serves as the Global Capability Manager for Services at Rockwell Automation. He has served on the boards of CASA/GAL, The Akron Symphony (GAMA), Torchbearers, Hower House, Actors Summit Theater, and other organizations. He lives in Fairlawn Heights with his Basset Hound, Leebo, and can frequently be found playing tennis, driving his convertible too fast, and sipping bourbon. (Note: Not at the same time.)

What types of arts and cultural activities do you enjoy the most (e.g., theatre, music, dance, visual arts, literature)?

I’m a fan of original paintings. I have a great love of Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko are two of my favorites and are very influential in the works that I collect. The opportunity to visit a museum and see the pieces, stand close to them, and feel the artists’ energy is magic to me.

How do you stay informed about upcoming arts and cultural events in Summit County?

I keep up with the informative and accessible communications from the Akron Art Museum, local galleries, and my relationships with local artists such as Todd V, George Roush, and Ben Manista.

Share a memorable experience or moment you’ve had while attending an arts and cultural event in Summit County.

07/07/07 was the opening gala for the Akron Art Museum expansion–hard to believe almost 17 years ago, and I remember it like yesterday. The modern Bauhaus-influenced buildings and draping windows created an energy in downtown that remains a backdrop for many of our city’s signature events. The party was perfect, no detail missed, and blended the traditional gala with an NYC club experience like no other event, before or since. I’m so deeply grateful to have been able to experience that moment in time.

In what ways do arts and culture contribute to your personal well-being and mental health?

I have a deep gratitude for the pieces within my collection and the artists that have created them. I live in a traditional-style home in Fairlawn Heights and created a blend of modern art within a more traditional setting. The pieces, all from local artists, create a sense of peace and joy every time I walk through the rooms. My favorite pieces include a Rothko-inspired work by George Roush in my family room, a painting of me as a hippo by Todd V, Day of Rage by Phil Martucci, and a great Pollock-inspired piece by Ben Manista that is the first thing I see when I step out of my bedroom each morning. I believe the right piece finds the right space. To be blessed to have such creativity and energy in my home greatly adds to my life.

Describe a work of art or cultural experience that deeply resonated with you and why it had such a powerful effect.

Jackson Pollock’s splatter pieces forever inspire me. His story, his struggle with alcoholism, and the fact that he poured out his energy, passions, and pain onto the canvas and created a new movement within the art world captivates me. Something many don’t know is that during the period that he was creating those works, he remained sober and healthy. The transference of the energy from him to the canvas gave him the space to heal and find his best version of himself. To understand that you can express your emotions in such a way and open your mind and heart for more is the message that I take from this. We all experience suffering. Creativity heals. I look for similar themes from the artists I collect.

How do arts and culture provide a means of escapism or respite from the challenges of everyday life?

I’ve used my home and the works that are with me to create a space of originality and inspiration. Creating a beautiful space that is orderly and visually interesting allows me to find rest, reflection, and rejuvenation so that I can bring my best self forward. Also, I like creating moments of unexpected joy for others, so each of the bathrooms that a guest would use in my home contain artistic surprises.

How do you think exposure to arts and culture at a young age can shape a person’s development and worldview?

I think it’s critical to expose young children to the arts (in all forms) early to open their minds and see the world beyond themselves. My girlfriend, Katie Pflueger, is a music teacher, and I see the passion that she brings to expose her students to new forms of music. I watch her daughter, Macy, enjoy her ballet classes, and challenge herself and see the value the arts bring. But one must remember, what’s truly important is the connection points here. Various dedicated organizations, people, and donors have made available a robust arts experience in our community, but it takes families, friends, and mentors to make the connection, to take a child to a museum, gallery, symphony, performance, etc. It’s not enough to have it available– we must activate others to make the connection to the arts real for young folks.