Joint foundation report provides assessment of arts in Summit County
1/16/2014 – West Side Leader
By Roger Durbin
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and GAR Foundation commissioned a study called the Arts & Culture Assessment for Summit County, an inquiry which concluded Summit County residents have a high demand for arts and culture and value its importance to the local quality of life and economy in this region. Another result of the survey showed the perception that the county lacks a cohesive arts sector and the overall leadership to push it forward.
According to GAR and Knight officials, the report of the study, which was released Jan. 13, is essentially a snapshot of the lay of the artistic land in Summit County, representing the first comprehensive look at the health of arts organizations, their finances and audiences. The Osgood Group, of Cleveland, conducted and produced the report, with the help of a 19-member advisory committee of local civic, business and arts leaders, according to GAR and Knight officials.
“We wanted to gain a clear fact-based understanding of the sector’s strengths and weaknesses, and explore collaborative models that have worked in other cities and may have value in Summit County,” said Christine Mayer, president of the GAR Foundation.
Findings of the study are available at www.theciviccom mons.com/SummitArtsand Culture, where anyone can log on to and contribute to what the sponsoring organizations hope will be productive discussions on how to address issues raised in the study.
“In order to have a great arts ecosystem, you need good information,” said Jennifer Thomas, Akron program director for the Knight Foundation. “We hope this data creates some rich conversations in the community and helps us chart a way forward.”
Residents, organizations, arts groups, business leaders — everyone is invited to comment and participate, according to GAR and Knight officials.
Among the findings of the study (which included reviews of financial data of arts and cultural organizations, an online and telephone survey of 800 randomly chosen residents, an online survey of 131 of 604 arts and cultural organizations, four community roundtables, executive interviews of 30 community leaders and other high level interviews with experts from seven other communities) are facts about the demand for and perception of the arts and culture in the area.
According to the study, 75 percent of respondents attended at least one event in the last year. However, fewer than half said that all of the arts needs were met locally (they may have traveled for other events). According to the study, that finding shows room for audience growth to area artists and groups.
The study found a “disconnect” between the way organizations view themselves and the way the public sees them. Arts groups regard their offerings as diverse and relevant while the public (especially young people and African Americans) do not necessarily, according to the study.
Another significant result is the need for a centralized information source about the arts — that is, somewhere to go for information to find out what is going on, according to the study.
A major conclusion and recommendation of the study calls for meaningful collaboration and interaction among arts groups and business and civic leaders.
With such a large, diverse and significant arts population (of more than 600 discernible groups), there was much discussion among survey backers and those at a press briefing Jan. 13 about the need for an identifiable arts sector — a way to pull it all together.
Area residents are likely to hear more information about the report and its impact during the coming months as discussions take place and feedback from the online website and other vehicles come in, according to GAR and Knight officials.
Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email [email protected].
This article was originally published in the West Side Leader and can be found at Akron.com.