Monday, November 23, 2015

Crafty Mart 101

Crafty Mart 101: 6 Questions with the Folks Who Make Crafty Mart Happen
by Brit Charek and Joanna Wilson

This piece first appeared in the August/issue #14 of  The Devil Strip--our new, twice monthly, arts & culture newspaper in Akron. Issue #14 is now available-- go out and pick up a copy or read it online here.

Brit Charek and Joanna Wilson have been contributors for The Devil Strip, you likely recognize their names from their awesome Akron Empire blog. If you’re a regular reader of either The Empire or this mag, you probably know they’re also the engines that make Crafty Mart run. So we asked Brit and Joanna for a quick breakdown of what to expect at Akron’s crafts-centric, small-business lovin’ shopping extravaganza, now in its seventh year this November 28-29.

What kind of vendors will you have this year at Crafty Mart?

Joanna: Our makers and artists are as varied as Akron itself. We've got everything from one-of-a-kind jewelry and leather goods, to beeswax candles and locally-sourced honey, to Akron-centric tees and pillows, to crafted furniture and wooden robots, to hand-sewn bags and soaps and beauty products, to specially blended teas and artisanal caramels, to nerdy buttons and high fashion bow ties, and more! (See for yourself:

Has anything changed since last year?

Brit: This year, we are offering a series of workshops for folks who'd like to make their own gifts! We've done this before, but this time, due to a generous gift from the Knight Foundation, we are able to offer all workshops for under $15 (up to a $150 value!!) To check out available workshops, click here.

We're also featuring a signature drink at our 3rd floor bar at Summit Artspace: The NORKA Mule combines NORKA ginger ale, vodka and a homemade ginger spice simple syrup to keep you warm while you're shopping - YUM!

How has Crafty Mart grown, both as an organization and in attendance, over the past 7 years?

JW: As of the start of this year, we now function as a non-profit organization. In addition to the Holiday Show and the Mom & Pop Shoppe in the Spring, we now organize a monthly event at Summit Artspace during the Artwalk, as well as several pop-up markets throughout the year like the ones at Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. To give you an idea about our expansion, that first year, the Holiday Show in 2009, we had makers fill Musica.  This year, we'll have artisans not only occupy Musica, but take over the Akron Art Museum and Summit Artspace as well. The Holiday Show is a 2-day event as well, so if Saturday, Nov. 28th doesn't fit your schedule, you have Sunday (Nov. 29th) to take it all in.

Where do you get your inspiration?

BC: Holy loaded question! I'm pretty well-connected to the regional and national crafty maker scene, and am always exchanging ideas with other show organizers from around the country. I'm actually working with Crafty Supermarket in Cincinnati and Craftin Outlaws in Columbus to host the Midwest Craft Con - a 3 day retreat for mid-career crafters February 19-21 in Columbus. I'm hoping that this summit will be a great place for crafty folks to recharge after the holiday season, as well as share best practices and ideas to better connect the maker community on a national level.

What is your favorite thing about Crafty Mart?

JW: One of the things I love most about Crafty Mart is that it's more than just shopping for small business artists and makers--which is important to me. But it's also about bumping into good friends, enjoying the funktacular deejays, enjoying a beer or a meal before moving on to the next venue--it's a whole day's worth of experiences that I always look forward to.

What shopping tips would you give to a first-time attendee?

BC: Since it's a lot to take in, break up the day by making sure to stop for lunch or libations, which you can do at all three locations. Make sure to grab a program when you walk in, and hit up all three venues. If you get your program stamped at all three locations and turn it in, you can enter to win some awesome gift baskets courtesy of our awesome vendors and sponsors! Yelp will be offering free gift wrapping right by where our auction table is located on the 3rd floor of Summit Artspace, so make sure to hit that up.

JW: My advice: start early. Take your time. Dance to the music. Take advantage of the free admission to the Akron Art Museum's galleries. Re-fuel with a beer or a meal in the café in Summit Artspace, the iQCafé in the Museum, or at Urban Eats next to Musica. Overall, enjoy yourself--this is what it's all about!

Come prepared with your holiday shopping list. I'm willing to bet you can do most--if not all--of your holiday gift shopping and be more satisfied with those purchases.  There's a world of difference between supporting small business artisans and shopping big box stores.

If you come on Saturday (Nov. 28th) and wake up the next morning with regrets about what you missed or didn't buy, know that you can return on Sunday (Nov. 29th) and shop again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

PechaKucha Night at the Bit Factory

PechaKucha Night at the Bit Factory
by Brit Charek

If you're not quite sure about how to pronounce "PechaKucha", you have nothing to worry about — even the organizers of the inaugural Akron area event for the international speaker series aren't entirely sure about that!

"All you need to know is that 20 slides + 20 seconds = your mind blown," the PK Akron Steering Committee explains on their Facebook page.

Each speaker must fit their presentation within 20 slides each lasting for 20 seconds, which adds up to 6:40 minutes precisely per presentation. Some conceptualize PechaKuchas as “mini-TED talks,” but with a party-like atmosphere. Here in Akron, that will be thanks to Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, whose beer will be available at the event, which will take place at The Bit Factory. (I wrote about The Bit Factory back in August  click here to see that post again!)

Currently, PechaKucha events take place in over 800 cities worldwide, and as of this Friday, November 13th, that will include Akron, Ohio.

PechaKucha is a Japanese word meaning "the sound of conversation". It started in Tokyo in February 2003 as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. Since then, it has grown massively in popularity and expanded its content. Now PechaKucha includes speakers talking about a variety of topics relating to art, fashion, food, life, architecture, film, design, community, photography, law, and science – the list goes on and on! 

"PK Akron strives to bring you Akron born creative content that has the signature of being innovative, inspiring and community engaging," says Steering Committee member Annal Vyas, "If you have something you feel people would want to hear about or know somebody else who does, don't hesitate to contact us."

This Friday's speakers include:

Roger Riddle, local DJ and Curator at Unbox Akron
Brant Lee, law professor at The University of Akron
Dominic Falcione, local artist behind The Bit Factory
Abhishek "Beesh" Jain, MD., a forensic psychiatrist and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Jennifer Davis, Owner and facilitator of smART Studio
Priscillia Roggenkamp, Internationally renowned artist
Phylliss Steiner, Hattie Larlham Director of Creative Arts
Joanna Wilson, Local author of “The Story of Archie the Talking Snowman”
Dominic Caruso, Design, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at The Akron Art Museum

Sponsors for the event include The University of Akron’s School of Law, Akron Global Business Accelerator, Crafty MartThe Bit Factory and the Knight Foundation.

PechaKucha Akron Volume 1 will take place at The Bit Factory, located at 526 S. Main St., 5th floor in downtown Akron. The doors open at 7pm.

You can find PK Akron on Facebook, or you can follow them on Instagram or Twitter at the handle @pkakron.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Michael Stanley & The Resonators Photos Charity Auction

Michael Stanley & The Resonators Photos Charity Auction
by Joanna Wilson

Attention: all Michael Stanley fans! A fun and worthwhile charity auction is going on right now.  Michael Stanley and The Resonators have team up with renowned Cleveland concert photographer Joe Kleon to raise money for Kitten Krazy, a nonprofit cat shelter in Medina, OH.

You may remember Joe Kleon's work from a previous Akron Empire essay.  I interviewed Joe two years ago when he had an rock photography exhibition at a coffee shop here in Akron.  Click HERE to see that interview again.  I've actually known Joe for many years--we went to school together!

Joe Kleon has been Michael Stanley’s concert photographer for 12 years and his photos have appeared in several of the band’s releases and are used to promote all their shows. He has photographed over 700 concerts and has aimed his lenses at legendary artists such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Rush, Aerosmith, Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and countless others.

Joe has provided eight (8), 11”x14” color photos autographed by Michael Stanley and The Resonators to the auction and he is donating 100% of the proceeds to Kitten Krazy for the care of the cats. Joe has been volunteering at Kitten Krazy for almost two years and provides exceptional photos of the cats to help promote their adoptions. A lifelong lover of cats, rock music, and especially the band Rush, it’s no surprise his two cats are named “Geddy” and “Alex.”

Left to Right: Wynne Kreps (KK Adoption Coordinator), Michael Stanley, Joe Kleon, Wendy Mirrotto (KK President).

Kitten Krazy opened 11 years ago in Brunswick Hills and has placed over 3,500 cats and kittens. Today, the cats are located in a beautiful 4,000 SF multi-room, free-roaming shelter at 910 Lake Road in Medina.  Fully-vetted cats and kittens are available for adoption Tuesday thru Friday 12-5, and every Saturday 12-3. After-hour appointments are also available by calling 440-465-9654.

The e-bay auction will be held starting Friday, November 6th and will end Monday, November 16th.

To check out the photos and/or place a bid, the link to the auction is found HERE.

Good luck with your bidding!

Monday, October 19, 2015

smARTStudio in Akron

Profile with Jennifer Davis from smARTStudio in Akron
by Joanna Wilson 

I first met Jennifer Davis when she was hosting a workshop in conjunction with a Crafty Mart show a while back.  Eventually I signed up for one of her painting classes--I was a part of the Jeff Goldblum portrait painting group. 

I had never painted on canvas before, felt a little out of my element, and was a bit anxious. However, Jennifer walked me and the other participants through the experience and now I proudly hang the painting on my bedroom wall! Jennifer impressed me with her skill and ability to work with people.  And, I've already signed up for another painting class. I've reserved my spot at Hot Black Coffee: The Twin Peaks portrait painting pARTy which is Oct. 27th. 

Jennifer Davis is the owner/Visual Arts Educator at smARTStudio in Akron's Highland Square neighborhood. The studio's mission is to provide enriching and creative art experiences to artists of all ages in our community. She graciously answered a few of my questions for this profile. 

Hi Jennifer! Please describe your physical studio space for us.
smARTStudio is located in a converted space inside our carriage house. The studio is a wonderfully welcoming place to facilitate visual arts learning with small groups and private lessons. 

You used to be an art teacher--how did you come to open smARTStudio?
I'm still an art teacher, only in a different capacity!
I was employed in a public school district and left the position after five years. The underwhelming support for the arts was a huge disappointment and providing students with an enriching art experience became difficult and near impossible. Opening smARTStudio has always been a goal of mine, and is a perfect fit for my philosophy of art education. I see myself as a facilitator of visual arts learning and a guide. Art making should incorporate discovery, play, and a focus on the process-not necessarily on the product.

What inspires you?
I never stop learning! Inspiration is everywhere is you are willing to be inspired. I gather and collect ideas from museum visits, hiking in the parks, books, film, family, friends, and students!

Tell me a little about the workshops you have going on right now? 
smARTStudio has ongoing, curriculum based studio instruction for homeschool classes and after school lessons. 
I also provide art enrichment workshops in the community, which include "Hot Black Coffee: Twin Peaks Portrait Painting pARTy" at Musica on October 27. I will host a "Watercolor Cityscapes Class" November 7 at Summit Artspace in conjunction with Full Circle Exhibit. Two "Have a Murray Xmas (Bill Murray) Portrait Painting pARTies" will be offered by smARTStudio during the 7th Annual Crafty Mart at Summit Artspace and the Akron Art Museum. 

Keep an eye out for upcoming creative classes with smARTStudio at the Canton Museum of Art, Summit Artspace, and the Akron Art Museum.

But you offer open studio time too, right? Studio time for artists who don't need instruction--tell me about that.
The studio is also available for Open Studio times, a great option for artists who don't need instruction- they just need the space to focus on their craft. I have artists that prefer to use the space for a variety of reasons and I can offer flexible times at a reasonable rate. The studio also houses a kiln that artists can bring their clay work to be fired for a firing fee.

Thank you Jennifer. You're a wonderful asset to the arts & culture community in Akron :)

"Diane, mark my calendar for Oct. 27th."

There are a limited number of spaces still available for the smARTStudio workshops--including the Twin Peaks portrait pARTy.  I want to paint the Log Lady, or maybe agent Dale Cooper.  I don't know yet--I'm too excited to make up my mind.



Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Givits Thrift and Recycle--Again

Givits Thrift and Recycle: Again in 2015
by Joanna Wilson

Givits in Hudson is still one of my favorite places.  Ever since my first visits in 2013--I wrote about those here--I like to drop by Givits as often as possible.  There's always something new and the owners are the nicest people!

Looking for a set of six drinking glasses that honor Apollo 12 and the 2nd moon landing?  Here ya go.

There's always time to look through the records.

Givits is better than a thrift store--it's a store for vintage items to find a second life.  One of the reasons I stopped by this past weekend was that I was looking for vintage men's neckties.  Sure enough, I found four that were better than I even imagined I'd find.  I was looking for neckties to wear to my upcoming book signing events and I found one with the local department store label 'Polsky's' and another with the label 'O'Neil's.'  My book is about the store histories of both Polsky's and O'Neil's--so these are perfect for me.  I couldn't be more pleased.

Are you an artist looking to paint on slate? Most of these pieces are already pre-drilled for holes to make your paintings easy to hang.

Givits is the perfect place for creative people because they stock pieces and parts of items that other  thrift stores won't bother with.  Want to replace a broken leg on a favorite table or chair?  You can find a reasonably priced vintage leg at Givits.  Looking for supplies for an art project?  There's inspiration around every corner.

A stack of old magazines. I saw vintage copies of Life Magazine, Look, and old Playboys.

What could you do with a dozen star-shaped glass candle holders?

A beautiful set of four glass kitchen canisters.

Stop by Givits and say 'hi.'  There's always something new to discover there. 

Givits Thrift and Recycle
Open: Fri-Sat-Sun-Mon 11am-4pm
5153 Darrow Rd. in Hudson
Facebook page link: Givits Thrift and Recycle

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fall Art Fair at the Gardener of Bath

Art Fair at the Gardener of Bath
by Brit Charek

This Sunday, the Gardener of Bath is hosting an Art Fair from 11am -6pm.

It's really more than an Art Fair. In addition to fine artists and makers selling their wares, there will be live bands (7 of them!!) and food trucks, making it a showcase for creativity in Akron.

Among food vendors who will be present are Zydeco Bystro and The Beachcomber trucks-- perfect for sampling local flavor!

"I feel like Akron is this weird creative hot spot, but there is so much 'distance' between making art and people who buy art, says organizer Heather Girves of the Gardener of Bath, "I would love to help close that gap and shine a spot light on shopping small and local."

She continues, "At this Art Fest people will be able to find some really great local treasures, anything from gourmet pork rinds and corn on the cob to hand crafted jewelry, locally made candles, and some fantastic vintage and reclaimed finds."

Check out the event page on Facebook for more details. See you there!

Monday, October 5, 2015

500 Plates

500 Plates
by Joanna Wilson

If you're active on social media, then you've probably been inundated with photos from yesterday's 500 Plates event. But that's sort of the point. The event on Sunday was one effort--among many--to extend the awareness and discussion about the upcoming closing of Akron's Innerbelt (Rt. 59) and re-imagine the space for the betterment of our city.

What was 500 Plates?  It was 500 Akron residents gathered together around one dining table to share a meal and a conversation about the future of our city's Innerbelt space. Ideas were shared and written down by discussion leaders at each table.

The 500 Plates project was the idea of Hunter Franks from the League of Creative Interventionists in San Francisco.  He worked with Akron's League including David Swirsky and the idea got funding from the Knight Foundation.  500 free tickets for the dining event were made publicly available and the event took place yesterday, Oct. 4th.  Yes, the meal took place on the Innerbelt itself!  What a weird and rare opportunity it was to enjoy a meal on a freeway!?  But it worked--and the weather was perfect! People from all of the 22 Akron neighborhoods came together to share their experiences and their vision for our future. What a gathering!

The video is by Amani Abraham from WAKR.

I heard early on that tickets were "sold out" soon after they were made available.  But a friend who had tickets urged me to get on the waitlist and I'm glad I did.  A week before the event, I was contacted about waitlist tickets and I got them!  I ended up sitting just three or four tables from the end--but it was worth it.  (If you can't tell from the photos--there were 63 dining tables lined end-to-end for seating down the middle of the Innerbelt to host 500 guests.) It was a spectacular event.

Dining on the Innerbelt?  Why not?

It was fun seeing friends seated throughout the length of the table.  Liz from Urban Eats lives downtown, and Roza from the Art Museum's Inside|Out program lives in Highland Square.

If you didn't attend 500 Plates, it's not too late to join the discussion about the future of the Innerbelt.  You can share your ideas on social media using the hashtag #500Plates or #AkronInnerbelt.  Or, you can share your ideas at

My plate has a Squash Casserole recipe from Larry in the Lane-Wooster neighborhood.
My friend Jeanne from North Hill found her seat just 2 tables from mine!

Everyone who came to 500 Plates also received a tote bag and a ceramic plate.  Each plate has a favorite recipe provided by someone from one of our Akron neighborhoods on it.  The custom plates were made by local artist Eva Kwong.  During the meal, we also enjoyed live music by The Admirables.

The Admirables sounded great!

And, Ace Epps from BMe Community and the Akron Urban League opened and closed our meal with two poems he wrote just for the event.  I bumped into Ace after the event--and he gave me permission to share the opening poem Food for Thought.  I think it captures the creative spirit of the 500 Plates event and the meaning behind it as well.  Thanks Ace!

"Food is the universal language that connects people
The rich and the poor; the plate sees us as equals

The central activity to all mankind
Over one meal we learn as we dine

Feeding on our differences creates common ground
Together we eat as new friendships are found

Instant rapport as relationships run the world
A cultural exchange for every man, woman, boy and girl

Fork hits the lips while the mouth sparks conversation
Sharing our experiences invokes celebration

Life without each other is like a meal with no food
While focusing on our different neighborhoods sets the mood

From Highland Square to Arlington and Summit Lake
People coming together with hopes to collaberate

Food can look beautiful, taste exquisite and smell great
As we build better communities starting with 500 plates."

Still to come are these markers created by Dominic Falcione of Rubber City Fab.  One will be placed in each of our neighborhoods to continue the dialogue about 500 Plates and our city's future together.  Dominic told me that he hopes they'll be up by the time it snows.  So that shouldn't be too far off, I'm guessing!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Akron Marathon 2015

Akron Marathon 2015 Photo Essay
by Joanna Wilson

I showed up at 6am before the race began and chalked some funny--and hopefully inspirational-- messages on the streets before the marathon last Saturday.  I also hung out and took some photos of the participants while cheering them on.  I was a Blue Line Party of one--but that means I was able to be mobile and cheered from several locations.  Congrats to all the runners--you are all winners.  Check out my photos and video.

High Street--a quarter mile from the start.

I also chalked on Broadway--just beyond the relay transition area (heading south).

Hey runners--anyone see these during the race?

I drove by these on Monday morning--they are already gone thanks to the rain.

Yes, it was still dark out at 6:30am. Waiting for the race to begin. I'm standing a quarter mile from the start.

That's the Akron Art Museum behind the runners--on High Street.

Action shot!

One block north and one block east--(Perkins and Broadway) watching the runners cross the Y-Bridge (All American Bridge) returning from North Hill.

Looking up Broadway--Quaker Square building in background. 

I returned to High Street--now on corner of High and Market. Waiting for runners to pass Art Museum a third time.

At High and Market looking east--runners on Broadway crossing Market.

Runners coming up High and turning down Market--heading west.

I can't wait for next year! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Diary of a Teenage Girl at the Nightlight Cinema

Film Review: Diary of a Teenage Girl 
by Brit Charek

A good friend of mine and I were planning a girl's day out and looking for a chick flick to indulge in when we came across Diary of a Teenage Girl. Girly coming of age tale? Sounds perfect! Plus it featured Kristen Wiig, so it must be funny, right?

Not exactly.

Well, parts of it were funny.

The film takes place in San Francisco in the late 60's as the hippies are fading out and the punk are taking over, providing a retro setting and wardrobe worthy of envy along with an epic soundtrack featuring the likes of the Stooges, Television and T-Rex.

The story centers around Minnie (Bel Powley), a 15-year-old budding artist who announces triumphantly that she has lost her virginity in the opening scene.

The film takes an uncomfortable and morally ambiguous turn when it's revealed that her partner was her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig)'s 35 year old boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Minnie deals with the emotional turmoil caused by the affair by doing the standard things all teenagers do: distracting herself with unsavory activities, ignoring school and her family, keeping a diary (We all know the danger implied by that...),  and most importantly delving into her art.

Minnie imagines asking comic legend Aline Kominsky-Crumb (yes, that Crumb) for advice,  not just on her art but on life and questions that come along with womanhood. Kominsky becomes a character in the film, leading Minnie on her journey to find the balance between who she truly is and what society expects of her. The lines blur between Minnie's imagination and reality as her drawings animate the the screen and dazzle the audience.

Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel of the same name, Diary of a Teenage Girl reminds us (especially us women) how hard it was to be comfortable in our own skin and how it takes a combination of looking inward and remembering those who have been there for us all along to get there.

Diary of a Teenage Girl is showing at the Nightlight Cinema until October 1st.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Knight Arts Challenge in Akron

Knight Arts Challenge
by Brit Charek

The deadline for the Knight Arts Challenge is quickly approaching! Do YOU have a big idea for the arts in Akron?

This challenge is a $3 million, three-year initiative to draw the best and most innovative ideas out of local organizations and individuals seeking to engage and enrich the community through the arts.

The Knight Arts website offers this invitation:

"Whether you’re an independent artist, business, established arts institution, organization or individual – we want to hear from you. No idea is too large or too small, as long as it follows three basic rules:

1. Your idea is about arts.
2. Your project takes place in or benefits Akron.
3. You find other funding to match Knight Foundation's grant. "

All submissions must be the in by 11:59 p.m. ET on Sept. 14 at

We reached out to the Knight Foundation for some tips, and here’s what those interested in submitting need to know:

  • This phase is purely the generation of ideas. Knight doesn’t need a budget or a full plan at this point. They want people to dream big.
  • Three C’s – Be clear, concise and compelling. Be brief but be inspiring.
  • Don’t use “grantspeak.” Do come up with a catchy title. We like those.
  • Here’s the $1 million question: What kind of ideas is Knight Foundation looking for? Answer: We are looking for ideas that authentically represent Akron - as a place, as a cultural inspiration.
  • What’s on the no-no list for the challenge? Don’t ask for general operating support. This is an ideas contest. It’s for something that is bold, unique and exciting, and that’s what we encourage and what we support.
The Knight Foundation’s Arts Program Director Bahia Ramos will also be holding virtual office hours online at noon ET Sept. 10 to answer any remaining questions. Join the conversation via phone or video.

If you want to browse previous winners in other cities, visit the Knight Arts website. Bahia Ramos can be reached at anytime at

Good luck! We here at Akron Empire can't wait to see what big ideas are generated because of this challenge!