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Celebrating over 150 years at the Akron Area Y, Judi Christy, the director of marketing and communication, shares about teaming up with Summit Artspace to honor the milestone through an Art of Y: Juried Art Exhibit.

It started out as a whim; a carry-over from the decade that I had worked in the arts world. There, every meeting, seminar, training class and business initiative seemed to have some representation of the arts sprinkled between video briefings by talking heads and Powerpoint presentation of the latest financials.

The arts brought a levity to the situation. It made the participants smile and feel connected, even though the subject matter in the previous or latter timeframe may have instilled stifled yawns or well-planned bathroom breaks. The arts made things fun.

So, when planning our association’s 150th Anniversary – the one that was postponed until we could safely gather in our 151st year – I remained steadfast in my desire to bring an arts component to the table.

I had the idea, but it wasn’t enough. I needed a partner. I sought out Summit ArtSpace to gauge their interest. I made an appointment with their executive director, brought her a turkey sandwich and a Diet Coke, and shared my vision: I wanted our YMCA Anniversary to include a community-wide art show where artists would visually share their Y story.

I had hoped for hundreds of submissions where people not only had a terrific experience and/or memory of the YMCA but also a better than average knack for using acrylics or watercolor. The art expert was not as unrealistic. Instead, she suggested that perhaps a better angle would a “Call to Artists” where they honored our organization’s milestone by submitting pieces that included the letter “Y” in any way; literal, hidden or abstract.

I liked it. So together, the arts boss and I started to craft a plan, doodling ideas for the postcard cover and started to timetable the who, what, when, where, why and how of an opening event that would involve donors, dignitaries, the press and some complimentary cheese and crackers.

We were both a little hungry, and a little naïve.

COVID-19 restrictions would still be in place by the time The Art of Y show opened in April 2021. The exhibit, like so many of the ones that had gone before it, would have to be virtual. There would be no wine. There would be no cheese. There would be no people oohing and ahhing over the amazing talent of the Ohio arts world or the incredible milestone of the YMCA.

But the show had to go on.

We did get submissions. Some of them were literal, some hidden and others abstract. Since the show was juried, we had an actual expert determine who made the cut and who did not. She, being an artist herself, allowed everyone to make the cut, stating that “if someone paid the entry fee and submitted, they should have the chance to show their work.”

I was a little nervous as I didn’t actually see the submissions until they were in the main gallery, ready to be the backdrop of a video and virtual walk-through the juror, Sharon Frank Mazgaj, the art boss, Heather Meeker, and I would be in.

Admittedly, I was a little nervous. What if they were terrible? Inappropriate? Negative about the YMCA? What if this crazy idea I presented to my boss was truly a crazy idea?

But it wasn’t. The submissions were great.

The juror, who also happens to be someone who I have known and liked for about 30 years, suggested we do this every year “so artists can anticipate it and prepare their submissions.”

And I agree. The Y isn’t leaving town and neither is the talent. And, thanks to the success of this show and my crazy idea, I guess I can stay too.


Check out the Art of the Y exhibit on YouTube or SummitArtspace.org.

Judi Christy

Judi Christy is the director of marketing and communication at the Akron Area YMCA.

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