The investments will boost Akron’s civic and economic growth by transforming the University of Akron’s Polsky Building into a downtown asset and strengthening steady state funding for arts organizations that support local artists.
AKRON, OH — As Akron continues its evolution into a vibrant community with a thriving downtown, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing over $31 million to transform and rename the University of Akron’s Polsky Building into a hub for civic engagement and in support of key arts organizations and initiatives that empower local artists.
The University of Akron will receive $20 million to renovate the Polsky Building, to be renamed after the Akron-born Knight brothers, where the school will relocate academic and community programs for the benefit of Akron’s residents and members of the university community. Akron Art Museum will receive $7 million to incorporate digital and technical infrastructure, ArtsNow will receive $1 million to support the Akron Cultural Plan and the National Center for Choreography will use $1.5 million to establish the NCC Akron Choreography Prize. Additionally, Knight is allocating $1 million for a future Knight New Work Akron call for proposals in support of Akron-based artists using tech in their practice, and $750,000 for the Knight Digital Transformation Fund, a second open call to help local artists with operational technology.
“Real change in community is made possible by long-term commitment and clear-eyed vision,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of Knight Foundation. “Since our founding in 1950, we’ve been committed to building a city of Akron where social and economic opportunities abound because all residents have a voice and are bound together by art and a culture of community. This latest set of investments is testament to our belief in Akron’s future.”
Here’s a closer look at Knight’s investments:
Revitalizing the downtown and the new Knight Building
Built in the 1930s, the Polsky Building is a former department store that has been owned and operated, for educational purposes, by the University of Akron since 1987. It is adjacent to Lock 3 Park, the Akron Civic Theatre, the Knight Stage and a revitalized Main Street corridor, all of which have greatly contributed to Akron’s ongoing improvements. Knight Foundation has been an active, anchor investor in that revitalization.
A total of $20 million from Knight will be used by the university to open the interior of the building to invite people into a new and dynamic space. The funds will create space for entrepreneurship, community collaboration, artistic performances and learning. The building will be fully equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
The redesigned building will be renamed after the Akron-born Knight brothers and will align directly with the university’s strategy to reorient its campus toward downtown, significantly increasing the community’s ties with the university and helping reshape the core of the city.
“This investment will transform a dormant building into a vibrant gateway that opens the university to Main Street,” said Kyle Kutuchief, director of Knight’s program in Akron. “As a University of Akron graduate, I have seen firsthand how the school is committed to the community. The new building, named after the foundation, will be yet another step in reinvigorating Akron, becoming a great civic asset for downtown and fostering more collaboration between the university and residents.”
Akron: Building through the arts
Knight’s new investments in Akron arts will allocate over $11 million to three local arts organizations and two open calls that fund artistic creation and tech integration. These multiyear grants in Akron will build and strengthen a foundation for further development, increase capacity and enable artists and arts organizations to strengthen ties to their communities, fostering meaningful connections between people and place—an integral component of Knight’s arts strategy.
The arts investments consist of:
- Akron Art Museum ($7 million) – To support the Museum’s overhaul of critical physical and technical infrastructure and the creation of a gallery space dedicated to the display of digital artworks.
- National Center for Choreography ($1.5 million) – To support the initial five years of the NCC Akron Choreography Prize, which will honor local artistic talent, and to establish an endowment for its ongoing operation.
- ArtsNow ($1 million) – To match contributions from a consortium of Akron-based arts funders in support of executing components of the Akron Cultural Plan, which was adopted by the Akron City Council in 2020 as a strategic roadmap for the arts in Akron. A portion of the funding will also provide technical support to the Akron Black Artist Guild.
- Knight New Work Akron ($1 million) – To support the commissioning of new works of art by Akron-based artists that use technology as a key component of the creation or experience. (Learn more about the concept of Knight New Work in its current iteration, which supports artists in Miami.)
- Knight Digital Transformation Fund ($750,000) – To launch an open call that will provide operational technology support to individual artists and emerging arts organizations in Akron.
Investing in arts and culture is central to Knight’s effort to build stronger, better informed and more engaged communities. In today’s interconnected world, artists and arts organizations are leveraging technology to strengthen ties with communities while fostering meaningful connections between people and place.
“Akron is a city that understands and recognizes the role the arts play in creating a community where people want to live, work and raise their families,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president of Knight’s arts program. “As technology has become a fundamental force in the creation, dissemination and experience of art it has become essential for artists and arts and cultural institutions to rethink the ways they connect to people, whether in person or through digital platforms. Enabling artists and arts organizations to experiment, enhance expertise and attract and retain audiences is precisely why we are investing in key arts organizations and launching programs that support innovation in the arts in Akron.”
A long history of community-building
Since 2012, Knight has committed over $81 million to build a more engaged Akron by investing in a wide range of programs that includes the revitalization of downtown to continue attracting residents, strengthening resident attachment to the city by creating economic opportunities through technology and the arts, empowering local leaders to help achieve a successful future for the city and supporting new uses of public spaces.
These latest investments come as Knight Foundation celebrates 72 years since its founding by newspaper publishers and brothers John S. and James L. Knight.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
We are social investors who support a more effective democracy by funding free expression and journalism, arts and culture in community, research in areas of media and democracy, and in the success of American cities and towns where the Knight brothers once published newspapers. Learn more at kf.org and follow @knightfdn on social media.
Image (top) by Tim Fitzwater.