Art audiences, supporters, and patrons are all vital to a healthy arts and culture sector. This new blog series will highlight some of the people who make the arts work in Summit County. (Have somebody you want to nominate for the spotlight? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Art needs and deserves an audience and advocates. In our newest series, the ArtsNow Patron Spotlight, we’re putting the stories of our local arts patrons front and center. Today, we hear from John Garofalo, Vice President, Community Investment with the Akron Community Foundation.
What was your first introduction to the arts in Summit County?
Looking back, I think it was probably during my days at Kent State University as an undergrad student who was always looking for things to do on the weekend. Many times, we would head to Akron to see a local band or visit one of the great arts venues such as the Akron Civic Theatre or the Akron Art Museum. Being a college student, you never have that deep appreciation for the arts until you experience it on a regular basis. Since then, I have made Summit County my home and the arts are just part of my life, not because the Akron Community Foundation funds many of the arts organizations in town but for the most part, they provide so many opportunities for people of all ages.
How do the arts in Summit County impact your life?
I can honestly say that the arts are one of the major reasons why I choose to make Akron my home. I am blessed in many ways and because I have the honor of serving as the VP for Community Investment for your Akron Community Foundation, I see all the great work that is taking place in the arts and culture sector here in Summit County. I love theatre, I love music, I love art, I love dancing, I love movies and films and when you look at all of those mediums of the arts that I love, you can find all that here in Summit County. In addition, the arts and culture scene in our community offers so many different opportunities for people of all ages. Summer dance performances in the parks, cultural festivals in every neighborhood, and the Cleveland Orchestra under the stars at Blossom Music Center: these are just some of the cultural activities that make Summit County a fantastic place to live, work and raise a family. Since 2000, Akron Community Foundation has directed more than $8 million in grants to some of the well-known arts and culture organizations such as the Akron Symphony, Weathervane Community Playhouse, Tuesday Musical and Verb Ballet. Additionally, ACF also has funded some new up-and-coming arts organizations that have made a tremendous impact. Programs at organizations such as Keeper of the Art Hip-Hop Preservation Project, Crafty Mart, Nightlight Cinema and the National Center for Choreography-Akron all offer a great opportunity for people of all ages to enjoy.
I have also made a habit of looking to local artists when I need to buy a gift for friends or colleagues. The artists in our community do great work so I would encourage all to buy locally when you can. Not only will it be a cherished gift for the person receiving it, but it also supports local artists who work hard to get their name out there.
What artist or arts organization do you wish more people knew about?
There are some amazing organizations making a difference in lives every day that are not as well-known as the others I have mentioned. Organizations such as Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop (YEPAW), Musical Theatre Project and Dancing Classrooms are all changing the lives of children who participate in these programs and it is fun to see the transformative power these experiences have on the participants and their families.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to a local artist who is incredibly talented. In fact, three of his pieces are hanging in my home. Kevin Smalley does amazing work and I am fortunate to have run across his work over the years here in Summit County.
What is a ‘can’t miss’ Summit County arts/culture experience?
For the past four years, I have been involved in the annual PorchRokr Festival in Highland Square. Each year, I bring friends who have never attended before and they end up having a blast. There is something for everyone and it usually is the place to be seen that weekend. I have worked the Beer Garden in the past and that is the best place to see and talk to people who are just there to listen to music and have fun. A close second would be the annual Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens Deck the Halls festivities. Nothing rings in the holidays more than walking around those beautiful grounds and mansion and seeing all those beautiful Christmas displays. This, too, has become a holiday tradition with friends and neighbors.