AKRON, OH.- At this time last year a ribbon was being cut and a gala had just been held as the Akron Art Museum’s new John S. and James L. Knight Building made its world debut. The first American building designed by Viennese firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, the expanded Akron Art Museum re-opened to the public on July 17, 2007 and hasn’t slowed down since -- from record breaking attendance numbers to international awards, the successes of the past year have been unparalleled in the museum’s 86 year history.
The transformation of the Akron Art Museum began with a multi-million dollar challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in June 2000. Seven years later, $44.3 million had been raised for a new building and new operating endowment funds. The approximately $35 million expended on the building portion of the campaign more than tripled the museum’s size, and approximately $9 million will be added to the museum’s operating endowment.
ATTENDANCE - “Our membership rolls have more than doubled, which is the major benefit of instituting an admission charge,” said Mitchell Kahan, director and CEO of the Akron Art Museum. “Typically, attendance drops when museums move from free to paid admission. Ours increased, with the first six months’ attendance matching the typical annual attendance of previous years.” Nearly 100,000 people visited the museum in its first year – about double the number that visited in 2004, before the museum closed for reconstruction.
Of those visitors, almost 20,000 came specifically for educational programs at the museum. While the museum was closed for construction, programs were held in multiple venues. “The Education staff has had a terrific year bringing offsite programs back to our downtown facility,” said Missy Higgins, director of education at the Akron Art Museum. “It’s been a joy for us to see adults, students, children and families playing with materials and making art in the museum’s newly dedicated classroom space. The auditorium also opened up new opportunities for presenting exciting lectures and films. Finally, our tour program grew by leaps and bounds as we were inundated by requests from university professors and students, K-12 schools, scout troops, senior groups and professional organizations. In fact, the total number of people who participated in museum tours doubled from 2004. We’re extremely excited to implement even more programs in the coming year.”
AWARDS - There has also been no shortage of awards bestowed upon the museum, both architectural and institutional in nature. Before opening, the new building won a 2005 American Architecture Award, soon to be followed by a wide array of awards post-opening. The most recent award came from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), who named the Akron Art Museum as both the winner of a 2008 RIBA International Award, as well as finalist for the prestigious Lubetkin Prize. The building also won an International Illumination Design Award (ILDA) from the Illuminating Engineering Society of America
Institutional awards have included two Ohio Museum Association (OMA) awards – an Institutional Excellence Award and Silver Visual Communications Award (for Prized Images: The Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media 1991 – 2006), a Zenith Award for Art/Culture from the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau and a Ben Franklin Award presented by Star Printing Company Inc. for the Winter 2007 issue of View, the museum’s quarterly members’ magazine. On top of these honors, the Akron Art Museum was also recently ranked #18 in the “Top 100 New and Powerful Museums” in the world according to the leading Japanese design magazine Casa Brutus and Director and CEO Mitchell Kahan won the Robert P. Bergman prize for leadership in the arts by the Cleveland Arts Prize.
FINANCES - Another accomplishment for the new museum came when it ended its first fiscal year in the black on June 30. It is not uncommon for institutions to run large deficits following an expansion, as annual operating budgets mushroom. Although the Akron Art Museum’s annual operating expense doubled from previous years to almost $4 million, healthy attendance during the first year and generosity from long-time trustees and new donors allowed the museum to end the year with a small operating surplus. "What a great year this has been,” commented museum President Phil Lloyd. “Record attendance and a balanced budget is an outstanding accomplishment. Credit should be given to our energetic staff."
CURRENT AND UPCOMING EXHIBITIONS - Exhibitions currently on view are California as Muse: The Art of Arthur and Lucia Mathews (through September 7) and Bill Brandt: Shadows and Substance (through August 24). Upcoming exhibitions include Smells Like Teen Spirit: Posters from the Akron Art Museum Teen Council (July 19 – October 12, 2008), Unveiled: Recent Acquisitions from the Museum’s Collection (August 30 – November 30, 2008), John Heartfield vs. Nazi Germany (August 30 – November 30, 2008) and Jean Pierre Gauthier: Machines at Play (September 27, 2008 – January 4, 2009). Visit http://www.akronartmuseum.org/exhibitions/ for more information.