Akron gives ‘Big Love’ to community


Kristina Aiad-Toss

UA student Ben Holda, a sophomore, admires an artistic rendition of a map of Akron at Big Love Fest.

By Preston Davis, writer

In its third year, the Big Love Fest of Akron filled Summit Artspace with a family-friendly celebration of the community’s art, music, dance, food, spirituality, and connection.

Big Love was held March 12 from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. In prior years, the festival was held at Musica, but the growing guest and vendor attendance forced a change to a larger venue.

Admission was free for the thousands that attended, but donations were encouraged.

Many artists, chefs, performers, community organizations, and speakers shared their insights on being a part of the Akron community at the event. The Summit Artspace is also home to many artists’ studios, which were also open during the fest.

The theme of the 2016 Big Love Fest was ‘Building Bridges’, where guests were challenged with crossing generational gaps, and fostering city-wide collaboration.

The event is quickly becoming part of Akron’s identity. This year, the Knight Foundation awarded Big Love a $5,000 grant and the Akron Department of Planning and Urban Development has assisted various groups with resources.

Torchbearers of Akron, a group of young professionals and leaders that donates time and resources to local nonprofits, presented attendees with several maps of the neighborhoods of Akron. Red, yellow, and white pins were used to denote “where you lived, where you played, and where you worked.” Torchbearers came up with the idea to generate an understanding of where and how the community uses the various resources of Akron.

Taylor Giuffre of Goodyear Heights pushed a “where you play” pin into the location of the abandoned Rolling Acres mall. “There’s some good dirt bike trails back there,” she explained.

In addition to the maps of Akron, Torchbearers wrote “What does Akron need?” on whiteboards and allowed anyone to answer. A mixture of serious critique and silly nonsense was generated, but the question was genuine. Akron’s Department of Planning is specifically interested in what the community would like to do with the space generated by the removal of the route 59 innerbelt, a project that has just begun.

Beyond grappling with the difficult nature of urban development, guests enjoyed a large variety of live music from Akron bands such as the energetic Acid Cats. Many Akron area food and drink vendors surrounded the stage. Earth Energy Treats was onsite promoting eco-friendly vegan edibles. It was Earth Energy Treats’ first year at Big Love, but they hope to be back next year. New Belgium brewing company was also present serving craft beer on tap.

Many guests said they found out about Big Love via word of mouth. Even a majority of vendors explained that a friend had mentioned the event and encouraged them to attend.

“I’m here because of her,” Jonathan Koenig said, pointing from his booth to the one adjacent. Koenig is the visual conductor for the ‘Fresh Eyes’ weekly-themed publication that he was promoting at the event.

Family events were also prevalent. Rubber City Prints, a printmaking studio in Summit Artspace, held printmaking workshops where kids and adults could try their hand at a variety of printing techniques.

UA alumn Raven Burdette had recently received an internship from Rubber City Prints and was enthusiastic to explain the nuances of printing and the manual machinery used. Other child-friendly events included a puppet show where colorful characters demonstrated the problems with apathy towards littering in the city.

Anders Pinecone sat through the show with his nine-week old daughter, Isa. “She may be too young to understand now, but hopefully we’ll be able to come back next year,” Pinecone said.

New this year were many aspects of the healing room. Kristie Leahy and Caitlyn Boyle, organizers of Big Love, maintained a calm atmosphere in the healing room, where guests could receive massages, participate in group meditation, practice yoga, reiki, and relax in the tea tent.

Leahy and Boyle are Akron area practitioners of modal healing, yoga and reiki, and see a strong connection between attendance at the event and attendance at their own workshops.

The one-day event is an immersive way of viewing what Akron has to offer and to understand what a citizen can offer to Akron.