Knight Foundation names 17 winning ideas in 2017 Akron Knight Arts Challenge

The winning projects, granted a total of $743,000, will share Akron’s stories through a range of voices

AKRON, Ohio – Nov. 14, 2017 – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation named 17 winning ideas in the 2017 Akron Knight Arts Challenge, a community-wide initiative funding projects that engage and enrich Akron through the arts.

The winning projects, granted a total of $743,000, will share Akron’s stories through a range of voices.

“Whether they contemplate Akron’s rubber-fueled past, or its arts-filled future, these 17 Knight Arts Challenge winners will bring the city’s unique stories to life and inspire us to think more deeply about the people and places of Akron,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation.

The winners were announced at a celebration event tonight at the Akron Civic Theatre. Winning projects include experiences designed to ignite conversations and share immersive stories, celebrations of Akron’s diverse heritage and history, and ambitious commissions bringing new work to the city. They explore black manhood, highlight the music of Akron’s immigrant communities, and provide a behind-the-scenes look at life in Akron’s factories during the 20th century.

This is the third year of the Akron Knight Arts Challenge, which has invested nearly $2.7 million to date for projects that answered one question: “What’s your best idea for the arts in Akron?” The challenge is part of a two-pronged strategy that supports established arts institutions to help them better engage the public, and funds grassroots initiatives of individual artists and organizations, so that everyone has a chance to make their idea a reality.

“Each year, our winners dig deeper for their best ideas. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results, and what they will do to help create an even more vibrant city,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Akron program director.

The Akron Knight Arts Challenge is open to anyone and applicants are asked to follow just three rules: 1) The idea must be about the arts; 2) The project must take place in or benefit Akron; 3) The grant recipient must find funds to match Knight’s commitment within one year. Applicants propose their idea in a user-friendly 150-word application.

A complete list of the 2017 winners is below and at

For Knight Arts Challenge updates, follow #knightarts and @knightfdn on Twitter and Instagram, and Knight Foundation on Facebook.


Anusha Alikhan, Communications Director, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646 [email protected]

Morgan Lasher, Partner, Amp Strategy, 330-714-4833, [email protected]

Photos available upon request

The 2017 Knight Arts Challenge Winning Ideas

Cultural Liaison Program

Recipient: ArtsNow

Award: $100,000

To support individual artists in Akron with a service that helps them improve their online imprint, boost traffic through social media, connect them with learning opportunities and more

Bechdel Fest

Recipient: Brittany Charek

Award: $48,000

To highlight films that pass the “Bechdel Test,” which brings attention to gender inequality in film and fiction, at a festival that features works made by female directors, producers and actors

QuTheatre Ensemble: Akron’s LGBTQ Youth Take the Stage

Recipient: Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture/New World Performance Lab

Award: $50,000

To form QuTheatre, a training-based performance ensemble, that will create and present a series of events based on the experiences of LGBTQ youth and adults in the region

Nine Lives

Recipient: Christopher Coles

Award: $45,000

To ignite conversations on racial inequality and empathy through Nine Lives, an interdisciplinary piece that immerses the audiences in the story of nine African-Americans killed in 2015 at an evening prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina

Love Across the USA

Recipient: Cindy Michael / Harps & Thistles Yarn Emporium

Award: $16,000

To create a large-scale, public crochet installation of an historic figure as part of a national project by Polish-American artist Olek on how women have shaped history

Akron’s Rubber Industry, a personal photographic essay

Recipient: Daniel Mainzer

Award: $11,000

To tell the story of Akron’s rubber industry in the 1970 and 1980s, exploring themes of work, immigration, integration and loss through a photo collection taken by the former in-house tire company photographer

FRONT Triennial at Akron Art Museum

Recipient: FRONT Exhibition Company

Award: $100,000

To bring a cutting-edge installation of public art to the Akron Art Museum’s garden as part of the inaugural edition of FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art in July 2018


Recipient: GroundWorks DanceTheater

Award: $27,000

To initiate a dialogue about creative expression through movement workshops where community members can experience and react to the dance company’s artistic process

North Hill Music Festival

Recipient: Himalayan Music Academy

Award: $15,000

To celebrate the music of Akron’s immigrant communities through a music festival in North Hill that will be professionally recorded

As a Community We Lift You

Recipient: Kent State University Foundation

Award: $11,000

To beautify a county building with stories of hope and change by creating a new mural based on the stories of a range of culturally diverse Akron residents

…Or Does It Explode? (SHOW2GO)

Recipient: Ma’Sue Productions

Award: $25,000

To explore race and identity in Akron by touring a production of “Or Does It Explode?” which uses stories from the city to examine black manhood through dance, poetry, and rap

44 Inch Chest

Recipient: none too fragile theatre

Award: $75,000

To bring to the stage the world premiere of a play based on the British indie film, 44 Inch Chest.


Recipient: Rubber City Theatre

Award: $30,000

To adapt two of Shakespeare’s works into a modern musical and play with themes and characters that reflect Akron’s LGBTQ+ community

Akronstein VR·Animation Lab

Recipient: Anthony Samangy and Eric Vaughan, Red Point Digital

Award: $85,000

To provide educational opportunities for Akron’s present and future animation artists by creating a studio for stop-motion and 3D virtual reality animation

Crocheted Tires and Rubber Quilts: Crafting Family from Appalachia to Akron

Recipient: Sherry Simms

Award: $15,000

To celebrate the history of Akron’s industry in handicrafts through sculpture that celebrates the heritage of the artist and the city in rubber, tires and polymers

Prelude: A Musical Bridge Across Time and Culture

Recipient: Tuesday Musical

Award: $10,000

To mark the organization’s 130th anniversary by commissioning a new piece by South Africa-born and University of Akron lecturer and composer James Wilding

Urban Troubadour

Recipient: Urban Troubadour

Award: $80,000

To create artistic and social synergy while showcasing Akron’s hidden gems through a roving concert series that takes place in the city’s galleries, restaurants, office and loft spaces, brew pubs, wineries, bakeries and more

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.