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Akron Art Museum Gains Thousands of Members, Plans Art Lending Library

The Akron Art museum has had quite a couple of months when it comes to financial gifts and memberships.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded the museum $8 million, its largest gift to date, in September. That inspired the museum to offer free memberships to the community, according to CEO Mark Masuoka.  

“It really was a way that we were trying to respond, not only equally as generous, but in a way that would really open up the museum even further than what it was,” he said.

The museum gave away free memberships last month on Giving Tuesday - the day after Cyber Monday- and nearly 16,000 people took them up on the offer.

People signed up in person and online during the free-membership promotion. [Akron Art Museum]

“We got such a tremendous response,” Masuoka said. “That really gave us the chance to start dreaming a lot bigger.”

A big benefit to the initiative is the membership data that indicates who is visiting. Prior to the membership giveaway, the museum had around 1,200 members.

That Tuesday was also the first Tuesday the museum has been open to visitors since 2009, a change enacted during the economic recession to reduce hours of operation. Adding Tuesday hours is another part of the plan to increase opportunities to access the museum.

“It’s something that we felt was important, to send a signal out the community and to the general public that the museum was open for business,” he said.

Visitors take in the "Alchemy: Transformations in Gold" exhibit. [Shane Wynn/Akron Art Museum}

Visitors can also attend for free on Thursdays, and the plan is to keep that going. Another $1.1 million gift from the J.M. Smucker company was announced in October, which in part supports continuing free admission to the museum on Thursdays.  

The museum plans to launch the “Akron Art Library” in coordination with the Akron-Summit County Public Library in February. Anyone with a library card will be able to check out original artwork to display in their own homes.

The artwork available for loan is from a new collection of locally created pieces, Masuoka said.

This program builds on a previous project, “Inside Out,” which placed reproductions of art from the museum around the community. 

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