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What Is the Akron Art Museum?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Akron Art Museum is an art gallery located in downtown Akron, Ohio. It features predominantly work by American painters and sculptors, but is also home to more robust international collections through its visiting exhibition program. The museum got its start in the early 1900s as an art institute where students were taught to paint and were educated on art history. Although the art institute has long since closed, the Akron Art Museum remains true to these roots by hosting numerous community art outreach programs and maintaining an art research library on the premises.

Fine art — particularly painting, Impressionism, and sculpture — is the primary focus of the modern Akron Art Museum. The majority of the collections focus on American artists from 1850 onwards. A permanent gallery is also dedicated to celebrating the work of painters based or born in Ohio. This sort of regional separation is common in American museums.

Beginning in 1999, museum curators started on the enormous task of digitizing all of the museum’s permanent collection pieces. Digitized paintings were posted to the museum’s website, making them freely accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. The digital collection is separated by genre, not by gallery room. It is not as much as virtual tour, then, as it is an online collection. Seeing collections online is never as good as visiting museums in person, but ti can be a good way of starting research or getting a sense of certain artwork’s elements.

Research is a big part of the Akron Art Museum’s mission. The museum opened initially in 1922 as the Akron Art Institute, a volunteer-led space for town residents to learn about and try their hand at fine art. Classes took place in the borrowed bottom floors of what was then the Akron public library.

When the library moved to a new space in 1950, the institute expanded to take over the whole building. It grew its services, and began labeling itself as a professional design arts and art training academy. Over time the school began showcasing student works, and started amassing a private collection of outside art as well.

The art institute officially closed in 1980, but the collections and many of the staff did not go far. They moved down the street to a renovated post office that soon became known as the Akron Art Museum. The museum has kept track of all of the art institute's teaching materials and keeps all of them cataloged in its on-site research library. Unlike the libraries in many types of museums, which are closed to anyone but credentialed researchers, the Akron museum's art library is open to the public, but depending on staffing an appointment may be required to view certain works.

Growing collections led the museum's curators to plan an expansion, which was completed in 2007. All aspects of the original building have been preserved, with new wings flanking and surrounding the more historic structure. The museum chose plans for the renovation through an open design contest. Members of the public were invited to vote on which design they preferred, with the final decision resting with the board of directors. The result is a striking glass lobby with distinctive steel features that has become something of an architectural landmark in the Akron area.

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