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Arts & Culture Patron: Joel Testa

What is your earliest memory of participating in arts and culture?
I have countless childhood memories that included arts and culture. I am not sure which was my earliest. I grew up with the bike trail in my back yard, so it was the backdrop of my imagination and my road to freedom.  As for the rest of the parks, our family did a reunion hike every year at Virginia Kendall which brought 4 generations and 50 or so Italians together to hike the cliffs, trails, caves and play all day in the open fields.  On the arts side, our company was lucky enough to build the Carousel dinner theater and my best friend’s dad played in the orchestra. I got to enjoy countless amazing performances and my favorite was always the winter holiday spectacular.  As I reached high school the Civic Theater’s animation festivals encouraged me to look at the world through a creative lens. 

How do arts, culture, and environment impact your life in Summit County?
I’ve spent my life living among them. Art allowed me to express myself, to find myself. The diverse culture gave me an appreciation for the things that made me different from others and the immense natural beauty we are lucky enough to be surrounded by in Summit County grounded me and reminded me of how we are all connected as part of a much, much bigger universe and shared energy. 

What artist, cultural organization or experience do you wish more people knew about in Summit County?
Well if I said ArtsNow it might sound like I am pandering to the interview, but honestly I feel that more people need to know about all of the incredible and passionate people in the arts and culture community and ArtsNow is that champion.

Why do arts and culture matter to you?
It’s a very spiritual thing for me. I think we get caught up in consumerism, materialism, and the drive to chase financial gains that we often lose site of how much our soul needs the interaction and appreciation of arts, culture, and environment.  It’s healing in a way no amount of medicine can achieve. But ironically because it’s not a typical economic commodity it goes far too unnoticed and under-supported. 

Have you seen an example of how arts and culture have positively impacted your community?
I have been fortunate enough to have the Metroparks and the Towpath run through my backyard. During COVID it has shocked me to see the number of people that embraced the parks as their getaway from being locked up in their homes. I remember on a run shortly after the lockdowns how everyone I passed waved, said “hi” and smiled. I commented at the time that everyone needed that social interaction and that connection with nature to help them get through it all and thought how lucky we are to live within these parks. Now on the arts side I was lucky enough to win a Knight Foundation Arts Grant. Seeing all the other lucky winners, their incredible projects and how Knight is able to make such an impact in our community with their support of the arts was inspiring. They are an incredible asset to Akron.

What is your favorite spot to shop local?  Why?
Of course, it is the Northside Marketplace! This project has been a true labor of love for my wife, Cassie, and me.  We have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of talented local artists and entrepreneurs and helping them grow their business and live out their dreams. We’ve seen so many success stories come out of the Marketplace in just a few short years and are so excited to see what life after COVID brings for all our local businesses. 

What is your favorite view in Summit County? Why?
The Penthouse at Northside Lofts.  For the past 4 years our family was able to live amongst the clouds in Akron. From the roof we could look to the North and see the quiet, peaceful, and lush Cuyahoga Valley reaching all the way to Lake Erie. Then just turn around and see the dense urban metropolis of downtown with all the architecture, motion, lights, and energy.  It is the most amazing duality and truly filled my soul like no other place can. 

Who is a patron or supporter of arts and culture in Summit County who you admire?
Rick Rodgers. Rick has been such a supporter for the arts in Summit County. His financial contributions have been staggering, but second to his knowledge, passion, creativity, and selflessness. 

What do you wish for arts and culture in Summit County in the next five years?
I hope that downtown Akron becomes the stage for the arts and culture. That there we create a vibrant and welcoming canvas for all to participate in either as spectator or artist.  The heart of the city needs to beat strong and loud. 

Why do you feel exposure and participation in arts and culture are important for students and young people in Summit County?
There is so much scientific data that shows that children who are exposed to the arts and culture excel in academics, attitude, and development.  They are encouraged to be themselves and celebrate who they are. They become better adjusted, less stressed, and overall well-rounded human beings.