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Curated Storefront brings art to empty spaces in Downtown Akron

“Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets. If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting. If they look dull, the city looks dull.”
-- Jane Jacobs, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961)

That quote inspired Rick Rogers to create Curated Storefront, an organization in Akron founded six years ago to revitalize downtown by transforming empty storefronts into art.

My vision was to activate empty or disused spaces in downtown Akron by bringing arts into the city and elevating the street edge,” he said. “When we started, we had one space at the corner of Market Street and High Street. [It’s] now been developed into a brewery. So, we felt successful our first time out. We've slowly moved down Main Street South and programmed over 26 buildings.”

The ultimate goal of Curated Storefront is to bring more commercial development to Downtown Akron. So far, it’s working: 11 buildings activated by the organization have been redeveloped. The other objective is to preserve history.

Rogers was born in Akron in 1954. As a child, he visited Downtown stores like O'Neil's and Polsky’s – especially at Christmas, when their display windows were full of gift ideas.

Unfortunately, our cities have erased a lot of our history,” he said. “In Akron, they haven't done as good a job as I think they could have. There's lots of empty lots [on Main Street] where some grand buildings used to stand.”

This year Curated Storefront teamed up with the contemporary art show FRONT, which was looking to expand its footprint in the Akron area.

“In the first edition, the only local Akron location was the Akron Art Museum,” said Annie Wischmeyer, curatorial consultant with Curated Storefront. “So, it was really important to FRONT that this time there be a more robust footprint here in Akron. The partnership with Curated Storefront was born because [we have] an amazing capacity to spread out across the city and be in all the unusual places.”

One of those places is Quaker Square. Built in 1932 as the headquarters of the Quaker Oats Company, its iconic silos were redeveloped in the late 1970s as a hotel with offices, shops, restaurants and extensive model train displays. Today, it's used for storage and dormitories by the University of Akron. Curated Storefront exhibits are throughout the building, with the pieces specifically for FRONT on the ground floor.

Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
New York-artist Chakaia Booker uses a Rubber City staple – old tires – to create abstract pieces such as this one, on display at Quaker Square during the FRONT Triennial. In the background is a piece from Cleveland-based Charmaine Spencer, who uses natural materials to create large-scale sculptures.

“This building is such an icon on the skyline of Akron, and it's such a nostalgic place for so many,” said Wischmeyer. “It’s exciting to reactivate it and turn it into a dynamic arts venue and invite everyone back in.”

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.
Jean-Marie is a digital arts producer who films and edits stories about people and places in Northeast Ohio.