ArtsNow Patron Spotlight: Erin Irwin

Art audiences, supporters, and patrons are all vital to a healthy arts and culture sector. This blog series will highlight some of the people who make the arts work in Summit County. Today we hear from Erin Irwin, Development Director for South Street Ministries. (Have somebody you want to nominate for the spotlight? Reach out to

What is your earliest memory of participating in arts and culture? 
My earliest memories of the arts always involved my parents taking my sister & me to community events! Akron’s parks always had concerts or events in the spring & summer.  As a family we traveled a lot, too, so we participated in some really unique events. My favorite was the African Arts Festival (in Brooklyn, New York I think). Then I was involved in music from age six. Art really helped to shape me into who I am today!

How do arts, culture, and environment impact your life in Summit County?
Without the arts in our community life would be dull. I think it’s easy to forget that each aspect of the city was built through creativity, or inspired by it. On a practical level, the arts keep us all connected and creative together. That kind of beauty affects us all.

What artist, cultural organization, or experience do you wish more people knew about in Summit County?
Definitely the Nightlight Theater. It’s such an accessible space to experience independent films.

Why do arts and culture matter to you?
All of us have a creative side, even folks who consider themselves to be logical thinkers. Some of the best ways to cope with challenges and stress are through creative expression! Writing and painting are like healers to me.

Have you seen an example of how arts and culture have positively impacted your community? Can you describe it?
In my neighborhood, Summit Lake, you can see it everywhere! Jason Blakely is a poet who made space for poets and publishes local talent. His wife, Michelle Blakely, is an expert knitter in my opinion who connects through crafting circles. The Leaven Lenses Project gets teens behind cameras, and now all ages can learn photography in the neighborhood. There are so many examples of artists using their gifts & uplifting others in their creativity. Akron is just awesome that way!

What is your favorite view in Summit County? Why?
Any view of Summit Lake is a good one. Seeing the lake lit up at night is something else.

Who is a patron or supporter of arts and culture in Summit County who you admire?
I admire GAR Foundation’s support of the arts. They support the arts programs locally, but have you seen their offices? Every room I’ve seen at GAR has paintings, photographs, and sculptures. It’s cool to me that Akron’s charitable organizations, like GAR, walk the talk in terms of supporting the arts.

What do you wish for arts and culture in Summit County in the next five years?
I hope the fringes of our community–the elderly and the youngest–have a chance to shine. Our elders have so much wisdom to share that we sometimes miss. Funny enough, kids are similar in that way and they have loads to teach all of us in the middle. Maybe collaborative or therapeutic arts for both age groups? That would be beautiful.

Why do you feel exposure and participation in arts, culture, and/or environment are important for students and young people in Summit County?
Creating something of your own builds self-efficacy. Now more than ever, it’s important for kids and teens to own their experiences within community. Art is both self-expression and communal voice. I don’t think there’s more important work to be done than that.