Arts & Culture Patron: Randa Nemer Shaheen

What is your earliest memory of participating in arts and culture?
Growing up in a small business immigrant family in Akron made a great impact on my life. My parents immigrated from Lebanon and were quickly immersed in the community. There are many Lebanese owned businesses that I grew up going to, such as Sanabel Bakery in Akron and Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn. The Arabic celebrations called “haflis” were a staple of my upbringing – filled with much food, fun, and dancing. Our Lebanese Food Festival at Our Lady of the Cedars Church was something I looked forward to every year for as long as I can remember (this year it’s being held on October 22-23, but as a to-go event because of COVID). I used to have so much fun helping to prepare for it and then getting to enjoy it with friends and family and seeing people from all over and different backgrounds enjoying our Lebanese culture and hospitality.  

As I grew and became more independent, I started to integrate other aspects of arts, culture, and the environment in my life. As a child, I would ride my bike to the parks where there was always a convenient access point. When my sister started driving, she took me to the theater, which broadened my world. Then when I started driving, I became aware of new local places and festivals that I would explore and support, and bring friends from other areas to enjoy together. 

What is your favorite spot to shop local?  Why?
A coffee shop is a shop, right?? Some of my favorites are: Akron Coffee Roasters, Café Arnone, Artisan, Muggswigz, and Nervous Dog. I have a great appreciation for the locally owned coffee shops. When I was younger, my parents owned the first local coffee shop and longest standing one near the University of Akron. It was called, Aroma Coffee & Tea. I saw how hard my parents worked and my siblings and I grew up working right alongside them. The food and beverage industry is very difficult, and we saw firsthand the challenges that came with it. Now, competing with big chain locations makes it even harder, so when you have the chance, or even if you have to go out of your way, choose small business, keep our local shops alive. 

Everything from the personable service to the attention they put in every cup of coffee makes it an enjoyable experience. That warm feeling when you have your first sip on a cold day -or- if you’re exhausted from the heat on a summer day, the ice-cold coffee gives me the energy I need to keep going. Whether I’m in and out, meeting up with friends, or even making new ones, it always makes my day. We have so many locally owned coffee shops, and they’re easy to get to. It’s not like that everywhere you go – but in Akron it is.

What artist, cultural organization, or experience do you wish more people knew about in Summit County?

A cultural organization that everybody should know about in Summit County is the International Institute of Akron (IIA). When my dad came to America, that is where he went to learn English. Then, when my dad married my mom in Lebanon and after she came over, she worked at the IIA as an interpreter for over 25 years. For me today, as an ESL teacher at Barberton City Schools, it’s really amazing being able to see everything come full circle through my students and their families. I’ve had students whose parents told me my mom interpreted for them when they came to the country. The IIA continues to do so much for immigrants and refugees to help them acculturate, create a new home in the United States, and become great citizens.

What is your favorite view in Summit County? Why?
Barberton has many hidden gems that I had never realized existed until I started working there. To and from work, I would always get to see the sun peeking out through the trees onto Wolf Creek from Summit Road. I especially enjoy that view when I’m at The Winery at Wolf Creek and then follow it up at Wolf Creek Tavern for lunch or dinner. 

Then when you drive towards downtown Barberton, it’s so unsuspecting, but there’s beautiful Lake Anna, at the center of the city. Whether you take a stroll around the lake on any given day -or- being there for a festival, it’s always a great time. The Mum Fest, which is September 25-26 this year, is also stunning! If you continue on, you’ll get to Tusc Street, grab a cup of coffee from Kavé, explore the shops, have an authentic Mexican lunch or dinner at Casa del Ranchero and cap it off with a beer from Ignite Brewery. An extra special view from Tusc is seeing the sunrise with a cup of coffee to start the day and then at sunset with the lights strung across the street having a nice cold beverage.

Who is a patron or supporter of arts and culture in Summit County who you admire?
There are many people who make Summit County a great place to live, work, and play. In terms of influencing people with arts and culture, I’ve seen the impact that Kurt Reed has made with teaching music. He and his wife Katie Carver Reed do so much to serve the people of Summit County.

When thinking about physical places that have become enhanced through art, I think of Mac Love who came to Akron and literally brightened up our town with the murals he created. He and his wife, Allyse, have also made a great impact in our community. 

What do you wish for arts and culture in Summit County in the next five years?
I wish for even more places where people can walk to and explore. My parents recently moved to West Akron where Pilgrim Square is within walking distance, and I just think about how nice it would be to have more sidewalks, links to local places, and for people to take advantage of these treasures.

Why do you feel exposure and participation in arts, culture, and/or environment are important for students and young people in Summit County?

Our students and young people are our future. Their participation in the arts, culture, and environment are what will keep our community going and thriving. Exposing students to arts and culture at a young age helps them grow with an open and creative mind and see the world from a broader lens. Moreover, as an ESL teacher, I help students learn English while nurturing their cultural background, connecting to their roots, and pursuing their own version of the “American Dream.” Each year, I organize a festival at school to help celebrate cultural diversity at Barberton. It is so special to see generations of people preserving legacies that were started so long ago, while also continuing to make the area a better place to live and visit through arts and culture. I hope to have children and take them to the same places I was raised going to, giving them the opportunity to discover and appreciate these places in our community.