Neighborhoods are focus of Akron Black Artist Guild fellowship art projects

Eric Marotta, Akron Beacon Journal

What makes your neighborhood special? How do you know?

Several Akron artists will be bringing their visions to life in three neighborhoods over the next two months in projects sponsored by the Akron Black Artist Guild, with funding from the Ohio Arts Council.

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Floco Torres, project manager for the initiative, said the goal of the Reimagine Fellowship is to bring people together.

“We wanted to focus on neighborhoods that, you know, they get love sparingly – they don’t get as much as love as, specifically, downtown. We wanted to pair three artists with the three neighborhoods … pair them with community organizations to create something that will continue the momentum with those neighborhoods and what those community organizations are doing in those neighborhoods.”

The fellowship awards the artists a $4,000 stipend and $2,000 for materials.

Tyron Hoisten, one of the founding members of the Akron Black Artist Guild, said there were 20 applications for the fellowship grants. The applications were reviewed by a group of artists, community leaders and neighborhood representatives.

“We put a jury together to review their applications, to look through their work, and out of that, we pulled out three very strong artists.”

“The main thing that we looked for was a true passion — a passion that radiated through their application through what they were thinking through their work,” he said. “We also wanted something that would pull people together.”

The projects are expected to be finished in June.

Focus on people in Kenmore

Talia Hodge, who was awarded one of the fellowship grants, has been scouting around for people to photograph who are symbolic of the Kenmore community’s character.

A 26-year-old who earned her degree in photography from Kent State University, Hodge said her goal is to use images to build a vision of the Kenmore community.

She said photography has been her passion since high school.

“I would like to create a portrait series that highlights the individuals who are creating cool things, or doing cool things that are not necessarily highlighted or talked about outside the neighborhood, or even in the neighborhood,” she said.

Some examples include a local teenage artist and a local music shop, among others.

“I’m still forming a list,” she said. 

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Hodge said the final product is in the works, with the final display “to be determined.”

“I have a few ideas on how I would like to compose everything, but not how I’d like to display it,” she said.

Hodge said photography’s appeal for her is the opportunity to look at the world with her unique perspective.

“Something that I see that other people may not, but it’s like something that I find appealing or beautiful or interesting, but also things that everyone may see but not consider further than a glance,” she said.

A portrait of West Akron

Artist Stephanie Stewart and her daughter Kayla, 20, are branching out from their pandemic-inspired business.

“The pandemic stopped everything,” Stephanie said, explaining that after 20 years in the information technology industry, she ended up at home with her five children due to the shutdown. To cope with the isolation, she gathered the children’s skills to form P-31 Art & Design, an online firm that creates journals, mugs, wall art, cards, kits and wearable art.

The business name stands for Proverbs, Chapter 31, which states “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.”

Stewart and her daughter said they are self-taught artists.

“I was working at the community garden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and garden season ended, and it was, ‘OK, what do I do now?’ ” Stephanie said. “So, I did like everybody else, I went from the yard, to hobbies and just expanded.”

Kayla, whose career in dance faced a setback due to a knee injury, joined her mother.

While Kayla took on marketing duties, the other children also pitched in: One son did the accounting, another son focused on writing ad copy.

They’re planning to create a mural that will bring people together.

“We created ‘Our path, our journey’ to basically illustrate hope, and rebuilding and community connection,” Stewart said. “West Akron is a hodgepodge of boundaries and sects and just — there’s this avenue and then there’s that road and north and south …

“We just wanted to create something that really gives light and value to the whole community; not northwest versus west, versus southwest, just the community as a whole.”

The mural will feature images from various parts of the neighborhood, along with a message from Greek Poet Dinos Christianopoulos, who wrote “What didn’t you do to bury me/But you forgot that I was a seed.” The verse is a call to rise against persecution.

Returning to Reservoir Park

A U.S. Army veteran who turned to graphic design for a career, Chris Harvey said he is returning to the place where he spent many youthful hours playing basketball — the neighborhood where his grandmother still lives.

“My work is digital,” he said, explaining he will be creating images to imprint on basketballs that will be available at the Reservoir Park Community Center in Goodyear Heights. 

“I’m going to be taking pictures of everyday people just playing basketball and incorporate them into that illustration by using that photo as a reference,” he said. “I’m going to be using local residents at different days at different times, bonding and just kind of translate that into art.

“It’s just like a colorful basketball, with art on it.”

Harvey said he hasn’t attempted this sort of art before, but has examples from decorated balls created following championship victories and feels he will be able to create unique designs that will inspire people.

A former infantry soldier with the Ohio Army National Guard, Harvey served a tour in Egypt with the Multinational Force and Observers assigned to monitor the border with Israel. After his service, Harvey said he worked security before deciding to become an artist and earning a degree in graphic design at Cuyahoga Community College.

He later went on to work as art director for The Devil Strip news website before the publication closed.

“I grew up in West Akron, right? But my Grandma, she lives four blocks down from the reservoir, and the reservoir for me was one of the first places that I could ever go,” he said. “It was like, ‘You’re older, it’s only up the street – go ahead!’ “

He said basketball is an ideal way to bring people together.

“Basketball is one of those things that nobody really has to teach you how to play. It’s one of those things that once you know, you could go anywhere and everybody knows how to play by pretty much the same rules. It’s kind of self-governed in that sense.

“I enjoy watching the spirit of basketball and that’s what the fellowship is about – the intersection of art and the non-art sectors. Basketball, it’s considered a non-art sector, but I kind of think there’s an art aspect to basketball, because everybody plays different, or is inspired by somebody else.

“Also, basketball is very community oriented. It’s very cordial, most of the time. It’s still a competitive sport, but it’s community building, plus self-governing. I thought that was an interesting intersection, and the topic for my fellowship.”

About the Akron Black Artist Guild

The Akron Black Artist Guild officially organized in 2021 as an organization with the goal of creating a networking association and support system for Akron’s Black creative talent.

The group received $20,600 in initial funding from the Knight Foundation and administrative support from ArtsNow, which conducted the collaborative Akron Cultural Plan.

Hoisten said the guild hopes to work with Reimagine Fellowship applicants who were not accepted through workshops and continuing education.

“We’re working to make sure that artists who are applying are absolutely putting their best foot forward in terms of professionalism, in terms of professional portfolio,” he said, adding some applicants had not developed a portfolio of their work.

“We still want to be in a relationship with them — they’re still important.”

Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or Follow him on Twitter @MarottaEric.

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