In 2015, Torchbearers was awarded a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight foundation to help enhance Greater Akron. To that end, Torchbearers dedicated $25,000 to establish the S.P.A.R.C. program – Small Projects Achieving Real Change. The idea behind the initiative was to encourage members to partner with community leaders and organizations to implement a handful of focused, creative projects to make Akron more vibrant and livable, thereby helping to attract and retain top talent in the region.
Through the program, Torchbearers funded five pop-up projects, which rolled out over the course of 2016, just recently coming to completion in March of this year. Projects included:
- Akron Sustainer – Kaley Foster led the effort to transform an 8’x20’ shipping container into a sustainability teaching center, which local organizations can take over for one month at a time to educate students and residents about green living. The Sustainer made its debut at last year’s Home and Flower Show in March, where it served to educate over 10,000 local Akron residents. It now sits at the newly renovated Cascade Lofts and was decorated with mural art in October by the Art Bomb Brigade. This year, along with offering a variety of independent programming, the Sustainer will partner with Let’s Grow Akron to host workshops on the second Saturday of every month at 11:00 a.m. For more information on upcoming classes, visit facebook.com/AkronSustainer.
- Falls Better Block – Samantha Coldwell and Getta Kutucheif worked with their hometown of Cuyahoga Falls to reimagine the potential of the riverfront pedestrian mall for one day in August last year, peppering the corridor with fiber art, local artisan vendors, a kids’ play area and pop-up cafes. The event attracted over 3,000 visitors and the attention of the mayor’s office, which is planning to roll out 4 new events this summer inspired by the Falls Better Block. The first event, Bebop on the Block, will occur June 16. For more info visit bit.ly/BebopCF.
- Sidewalks with Soul – Kat Pestian and Allyson Boyd had a vision to turn eyesores into inspiration by retrofitting unused phone booths with speakers and flooding the streets of Akron with music. In March this year, that vision became a reality. Working with the Downtown Akron Partnership and 91.3 The Summit, seven phone booths along Main Street were wrapped with fresh graphics and now stream music from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. – keep an eye and an ear out for them next time you’re strolling downtown!
- Art on Main: #Overlooked – Adrienne Bradley and Laura Wallerstein saw potential in Akron’s unused spaces – residents just needed help seeing it, too. So they helped local fine arts photographer Shane Wynn create #Overlooked, a series of portraits featuring empowered Akron women in neglected local spaces. The photographs hang in empty storefronts of the O’Neil’s building on Main St. next to Lock 3, calling attention to the untapped potential of Akron’s infrastructure and talent. The exhibit began in March and was organized by #CuratedStorefront. For more information, visit curatedstorefront.org.Through these projects, Torchbearers have made our city streets a little more inviting, connected residents to their community and their neighbors, and encouraged us to envision how to make our home a more vibrant and enriching place to live. It’s thanks to supportive partners like the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and passionate people with an optimistic vision that we are realizing change right here and now. All it takes is a little S.P.A.R.C. of inspiration.
- #OnlyinAkron – Brian Steere and Jenny Hertzig had a passion for Akron, and they wanted to share it with the world. So with the help of the S.P.A.R.C. grant, they established a social media presence on Facebook to promote all that Akron has to offer. Since kicking off, the initiative has taken on a life of its own, with residents using the #OnlyinAkron hashtag to promote the region’s hidden gems and happenings. In turn, #OnlyinAkron promotes local pride and drives residents to area businesses and organizations. Is there something in Akron you think people should know about? Join the movement and share your pride using #OnlyinAkron.
Through these projects, Torchbearers have made our city streets a little more inviting, connected residents to their community and their neighbors, and encouraged us to envision how to make our home a more vibrant and enriching place to live. It’s thanks to supportive partners like the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and passionate people with an optimistic vision that we are realizing change right here and now. All it takes is a little S.P.A.R.C. of inspiration.