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 Josy Jones, actor, director, playwright, and community builder. (Have somebody you want to nominate for the spotlight? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
What is your earliest memory of participating in arts and culture?
I’m not from Akron, but I had to take ballet classes when I was very young and living in Cleveland, OH. All I remember now is first and second positions. I also remember playing guitar in high school.
How do arts, culture, and environment impact your life in Summit County?
Arts and culture is my life. It’s why I moved to Summit County. It’s why I moved to Akron. I wanted to move to a place where the arts were being funded and I felt like I could make a living as an artist and be challenged as an artist. Everything that I do is to help support and shape the arts and culture in Akron.
What artist, cultural organization, or experience do you wish more people knew about in Summit County?
So last year, I had the honor of working at the Exchange House in North Hill. I wish people knew more about the dance class we offered. I wish more people knew about the many cultural events that happen in North Hill, honestly. Last year, I got to participate in Teej, a festival for women. Women wear red and celebrate with one another. We got to dance and enjoy one another. It was pretty great.
Why is it so important to you/your family to support arts and culture? Why do arts and culture matter to you?
If the arts and culture in our community thrives, then so does my life and the life of my family. My partner is also an artist and active community member. If people are supporting the music scene, that supports our household because he’s a musician. If people are supporting theatre, they are directly/indirectly supporting how I make money. The arts matter to me because I see them as an opportunity to be face to face with our humanity. I really enjoy dance because it really challenges American cultural barriers to physical touch. It’s one of the only opportunities I get to physically touch another human being and be with them in joy and exploration. It’s beautiful, and I don’t think we have enough of it. The arts are a space for conversation and healing. I think the arts remind us what it means to be human, and what is more important than our humanity?
Have you seen an example of how arts and culture have positively impacted your community? Can you describe it?
Recently, I took a non-theatre friend to see a one-man show at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival. His show dealt with his experiences being a military veteran and how he found healing in theatre. It really resonated with my friend. She saw herself and her experiences reflected in his work. She was able to connect with the art form and be reminded of the validity of her experience. And from that, I understood her a little better. That is a small example of its effect on one person, but just imagine the connections we could make and how much better we could understand one another if we are each able to do that on a daily basis?
What is your favorite spot to shop local? Why?
I love the team at Dirty River! They are a bike shop in the Northside District, and when I say they are my favorite types of people, I mean it! They’re so helpful. They’re not condescending. They are willing to help you and support you in your cycling journey and they are community-oriented. They’re a joy, really.
What is your favorite view in Summit County? Why?
That’s a hard question. My favorite view…I think it changes as I see more and more great views! I always like going to the top of buildings in Downtown Akron though. And each building gives you a new view. It’s like you’re not even in Akron. So that’s nice. I’m open to suggestions for more great views!
Who is a patron or supporter of arts and culture in Summit County who you admire?
Ah! This is unfair. There are so many great people in this culture! I feel like this is a cop-out answer, but I can’t say! I admire so many people, and I am blessed to call a few of them friends and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out because I am biased. SUPER biased. I will say, I admire anyone who is challenging the system and how we think of arts, culture, community, and inclusiveness. I admire those of us who are dedicated to reminding people that arts are not an afterthought, we are a part of the big picture and should be treated as such. There. That’s an answer!
What do you wish for arts and culture in Summit County in the next five years?
I wish for arts and culture to be taken seriously. I’d love to see artists walking alongside the city to make it a more vibrant place and for artists to be being paid living wages for making Summit County a place others will visit and want to live.
Why do you feel exposure and participation in arts, culture, and/or environment are important for students and young people in Summit County?
I think it is important to be exposed to the arts and to be able to see yourself in the arts. Representation is everything. If you are a Black child, it is important to see that there are Black dancers. If you are a trans young adult, it is important to experience trans poets. If you are someone who is deaf, it is important to see deaf actors. If you are an immigrant, it is important to see an immigrant painter’s work. It is important to see ourselves in all walks of life, and I think being exposed to and participating in arts makes it possible for the lineage and the representation in the arts to grow. So, I think that’s a long-winded way to say, I think it’s important because it opens up possibilities and allows us to see ourselves in art, to heal from art, to explore our purpose. Even if those students or young people do not become artists, they will know that they can be whatever they choose, because they saw themselves. It says your possibilities are endless. It also gives you an opportunity to tell your own story, and not have others tell it for you. A lot of my work as a theatre artist focuses on representation and access to art in my community. I think no matter how old or young, everyone deserves to see themselves in art. It’s your right to be represented in this world.