Mitchell Kahan, Director, Akron Art Museum

2008 ROBERT P. BERGMAN PRIZE

With the average museum director’s tenure running less than five years, Mitchell Kahan’s two-decades-plus term as director of the Akron Art Museum is in itself a testament to his success. His stability, vision and ambition have helped him to win the trust and admiration of his staff and board and the community, ties that proved essential to his ability to guide the evolution of not only the museum, but of Akron as well.

The Akron Art Museum’s bold, edgy and striking $36 million-dollar expansion, which won universal plaudits from the world architectural press, tripled the museum’s gallery space from approximately 8,000 to 20,000 square feet when it opened in 2007. The addition allowed the museum to better display much of its permanent collection, including important works by Chuck Close, Frank Stella, Lari Pittman, Richard Deacon and George Segal, as well as mount much larger temporary exhibitions.

Designed by one of the world’s leading architectural firms, Coop Himmelb(l)au, the museum addition was the firm’s first building in the Americas. “On every level—as civic architecture, urban catalyst, socializing engine, gallery, steel-and-glass maelstrom, crafted object— the building succeeds," wrote Art in America.  "There have been many museums built over the last two decades that have exhibited noble intentions toward their cities and their collections, but the Akron museum stands out within the new generation of museums as a masterwork. [The museum] . . . had the insight and courage to support a design that matters not only to Akron but also to the country. This is a building of national significance.”

While many people doubted that the Akron Art Museum—a relatively small museum in a relatively small city—could generate support for anything beyond a very modest expansion of its existing space, Kahan developed a thorough and thoughtful plan for this extremely ambitious project. His uncomprising insistence on quality architecture and his inspiring artistic vision for the new space had led to record-breaking attendance.

A community-minded visionary who believes that small museums and small cities can take risks and achieve greatness, Kahan has also been a fervent champion of area artists. He was one of the founders of Summit Art Space, adjacent to the museum, a collaboration between the arts community and the county. While building a fine contemporary collection with stunning examples of some of the best artists of our time, Kahan has never lost sight of its commitment to the artists of this region, showing artists of the old Cleveland School, such as William Sommer, as well as the region's most exciting contemporary painters, sculptors and photographers. 

At the same time that it has championed the bold and the new, the institution had, under Kahan's leadership, also increased its endowment by $8.5 million. He has united the community, he has brought art to new audiences and he has acquired important treasures for the museum collections. He also succeeded in making the museum an important part of the fabric of life in the city of Akron and beyond.

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org

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