A few generations ago, work was what primarily drew a population to a certain set zip code.

A few generations ago, work was what primarily drew a population to a certain set zip code.

These days, however, many people are moving because of what a certain city has to offer when the work day is done.

“What you are seeing with millennials and younger Gen-Xers is that they are more interested in a particular place than they are in finding employment,” said Nicole Mullet, executive director at the recently formed Summit County-wide ArtsNow. “They are looking at the parks, or nightlife of a particular place and then finding a job when they get there.”

That was indeed the case for Benjamin Rexroad, who along with partner Kyle Jozsa, parlayed his theater degree from the University of Akron into forming Wandering Aesthetics Theatre in 2009.

“We were looking to leave Akron and maybe go to Seattle or Ashville, North Carolina,” Rexroad said. “But then they started having public meetings around the arts and cultural study (that would form the foundation of ArtsNow) and we started to see this energy in and around Akron. They were trying to build this community and keep its artists home.”

It was enough for Rexroad and Jozsa to give their hometown another shot. Two-and-a-half years after those public meetings, Rexroad now acts as an artistic consultant for ArtsNow, overseeing the Oct. 15 launch of SummitLive365.com. It’s an interactive website designed to serve as a portal for artists, performers, venues, and organizations to feature their talents, as well as “a robust event calendar for the county.”

For years, community stakeholders have struggled with a perceived gap between the local arts and business communities, Mullet explained. Those concerns led to a major engagement project involving more than 200 people, the fruits of which spawned the non-profit ArtsNow in July 2014.

The $50,000 Arts and Cultural Assessment for Summit County study, conducted from February through September 2013 by the GAR and Knight foundations, along with the Osgood Group, also led to plans for a more centralized “clearinghouse” for local artists. It’s re-energizing connectivity between the arts and cultural communities and business interests, demonstrating how seemingly divergent communities often have similar goals for the community at large.

The study also identified continuing problem areas for local artists, such as residents' lamenting the disappearance of a once-vibrant area jazz scene, to young people feeling the need to leave the county for nightlife options.

“The impetus was quality of life of residents,” Mullet said. “What makes millennials in particular want to stay is a sense of place. We found that many residents felt they had to go to Cuyahoga County or to downtown Akron.”

Mullet said the SummitLive365 site came directly from artist input into the arts and cultural study.

“One of the findings that came out of it was the need for the county to get a better sense of itself,” she said, adding that the survey found an expectedly robust arts community throughout Summit County, but a serious lack of ways for audience members and other artists to find them.

TWO-WAY STREET

Connecting artists to artists and artists to the business community takes more than simply building a website and populating an online calendar. While organizations including the Akron Civic Theatre, Akron Symphony and Downtown Akron Partnership have helped lead the ArtsNow charge, getting the word out to, and sharing resources with, groups and individual artists across the country will be key in coming months, Mullet said.

With that in mind, several “population parties” have been planned.

“Those of us in the arts who are tapped into this sometimes assume everyone is,” Mullet said. “But in the next 12 to 18 months it is going to be very important to find those who don't know about this and not tell them what to do, but ask what they need and how we can help and partner with them.”

That outreach will extend to businesses as well, Mullet said, piggybacking onto similar efforts by groups like Leadership Akron's Torchbearers.

The countywide component, she added, is also vital. As an artist, Rexroad called this ArtsNow and SummitLive365.com's most unique and important attribute.

“A lot of similar lists focus on Akron or specific areas of Akron,” he said. “This (effort) is about going out and making personal contact. Another cool thing with the mobile part of the website is that it will be responsive. Someone standing in Richfield or Stow or downtown Akron can say, 'Show me things happening within a mile.'”

GETTING BUY-IN

Any listing and interactive outreach effort is, of course, only effective if it is used. Rexroad allowed that reinvigorating the arts community about the project after a nearly three-year run-up has been a challenge.

He said the next phase will be twofold, with a combination of old-school media advertising and continuing to make personal visits to artists and businesses.

“I have done a lot of research into using the arts as an economic driver for revitalization and I am so excited to be a part of this,” he said, noting that there has long been a symbiotic relationship between the arts and business that has often been voluntarily ignored by both sides.

“Our theater company, for instance, (appeals to) that 'middle audience' – those who don't necessarily have kids so 'family-friendly' events (are not as attractive) to them,” he said.

In other words, the audience is out there and it is simply a matter of finding it.