Knight Foundation grants $650,000 to Akron’s ArtsNow, Nightlight Cinema
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Thursday $650,000 in grants to two small Akron arts and cultural nonprofits, ArtsNow and the Nightlight Cinema, including support to hire new staff at both organizations.
“We’re thrilled about these investments,” said Priya Sircar, arts program director for the Knight Foundation. “With the onset of the pandemic in the spring … it has really upended arts and cultural business models and obviously how people are making art and also how people are experiencing art.”
A $450,000 grant over five years will help ArtsNow continue to implement the Akron Cultural Plan at a time when physical distancing has proved that art is essential to connecting people, the foundation said in a statement.
The Akron Cultural Plan, a 15-year plan that began in 2019, is aimed at strengthening the city, advancing cultural diversity and increasing opportunities for all Akron residents to create and experience arts and culture. The plan was funded by GAR Foundation and the Knight Foundation.
“This investment is about helping to really build out ArtsNow’s capacity to continue to steward the plan and spearhead the things that are in the plan that will support the arts and cultural community to be able to expand their programming …,” Sircar said. “Any time a plan is completed, it’s important to keep that momentum going.”
The Knight funding also will allow ArtsNow to hire for the new position of director of programming, whose job will include increasing outreach and promotion through digital platforms, establishing citywide collaborations that will drive the cultural plan and increasing data collection of Akron artists to identify needs and opportunities.
“This past year it [data collection] has been incredibly important in informing the community just how impacted the arts and culture sector was economically because of COVID,” said Executive Director Nicole Mullet, who currently runs ArtsNow with the help of one part-time employee.
She called the Knight Foundation grant a “game-changer.”
“In addition to allowing us to shore up the organization and add some sustainability to ArtsNow, this [new] position is going to enable us to steward the cultural pan forward,” she said.
That includes collaborating with community organizations such as Summit DD to work on programming with people of all abilities and artists of all abilities.
“We want to make sure that we’re engaging with artists of all abilities in the best possible way,” said Mullet, whose organization, founded in 2015, has an annual budget of just under $354,000.
Nighlight Cinema will receive $200,000 in support during three years, enabling it to hire a full-time executive director for the first time since 2018. The new executive director will lead a small team of cinema and programming staff and focus on fundraising to support future projects and screenings by the independent art house.
“It’s immensely important,” said board Chair Jim Crutchfield of the $200,000 Knight Foundation grant. “We’ve gotten help to get through this pandemic year but this is going to be the biggest boost of all.”
“We need full-time, strong administrative leadership, including fundraising and an affinity for film,” said Crutchfield, who said Nighlight hopes to name its new executive director in the next couple months.
“I see the Knight Foundation grant to the Nighlight as both an artistic and economic investment in Akron.”
Board member Matt Wachter has been serving as interim executive director for more than a year at the Nighlight, which was founded in 2014 and whose current annual budget is about $300,000. Eugene Weaver, the organization’s last executive director, stepped down in June 2018.
Sircar pointed to how after the pandemic closed the Nighlight in March, the organization turned to offering digital movies and doing outdoor screenings at Stan Hywet in the summer and Wolfcreek Winery in October. That allowed Nightlight to strengthen partnerships with other organizations and attract new patrons in different neighborhoods.
Crutchfield said Nighlight plans to do the outdoor screenings, which were sold out at both locations, again next summer.
“I wouldn’t wish the pandemic on anybody but I thought it brought out the best in us, as well as others,” Crutchfield said of local arts organizations. “We found other ways of doing things that will have longterm appeal to people.
He said the Nightlight hopes to reopen in February or March, when it plans to offer both in-theater and online experiences. Plexiglass was installed at the box office last spring and the theater is about 75 percent done with a ventilation system upgrade.