By: Katie Sobiech
As we approach celebrating another new year, why not ring it in right, with new dreams for the city of Akron? Starting with a fresh, new vision seems to be what we all need. Are there any dreamers out there?
“We (Scott Myers, Founder of the Akron Area Eutopia Report, and I) are really trying to encourage people that there is hope, and even in the face of blight, adversity, and all types of personal setbacks, that you can have a joyful spirit,” Tony Troppe said.
Troppe, a modern artist, renovates old, decaying buildings, turning them into beautiful masterpieces. He says of his work, “It reflects on great design that is based around how people feel comfortable in space and places in urban environments.”
Everyone dreams of living in a good place. Troppe, knowing it doesn’t quite exist, still strives for a utopian society. He believes in building up a good place.
“Utopia is like existing in an ideal realm. It’s a place that so far off in the distance that it’s never really quite achievable,” he said.
But that doesn’t stop him from trying to create the perfect place; starting on Main and Market streets.
“You’ve got a great place here. That is something that should encourage everyone who comes here who wants to be a part of a collaborative effort to build a great place,” he said.
Legends of Akron
Many have paved the way for the artistic and creative minds here today.
“They’ve come from this underground rock factory called Akron, Ohio,” Troppe said.
In 1900, Harvey S. Firestone established the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company here. For years, Akron’s claim to fame was that it was The Rubber Capital of the World. It has also been called “The City of Invention”.
“All we’ve got to do is reflect on the history of this great intersection at Main and Market. The Everett Building was the academy of music,” he continued.
Troppe reminisces on the many great performers that graced its stage.
Many firsts happened right here in Akron as well. Not only did Akron put the world on wheels, it is also home of the first U.S. toy company, first graded school system, first NFL champion, and was the first meeting place for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors and minds of all time was even married in Akron.
“We’ve got a list that blows the charts away, so I have this expected hope and joy that there will be more and more talented people coming out of this town. There’s something in the water. There’s something in the air. This winter will enable us to sit back and reflect,” he said.
As the snow falls, inspiration begins.
It’s time to reflect and rejuvenate ourselves with new ideas.
“As it gets cold you might put another log on the fire, come up with another idea and write it down. It might manifest itself in the form of invention or innovation,” Troppe said.
The Beat Goes On
Artists, up-and-coming artists, pro-athletes, inventors and great minds have all come from this place.
Athletes like LeBron James, rock stars like Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, Inventors like Harvey Firestone… these are just a few examples of the greatness that has come out of Akron.
“We have a tradition of excellence here. We have a wonderful legacy of performing arts,” Troppe said.
He brings to mind the Black Keys.
“They are now multimillion record hit producers that travel the world as ambassadors of our town, letting the world know that Akron, Ohio keeps churning out great ideas, great talent, and great energy that consistently plays a part in changing the world,” Troppe said.
And the flow isn’t about to stop.
Troppe mentions up-and-comer Rachel Roberts with her band Rachel’s Secret Stache, who has already been named a rising star.
“Rachel is one of the members of this pantheon of great musicians that have come from Akron,” Troppe shared, “She’s a poet that’s going to help change the world with her eloquent delivery of sound and song. I think she’s that next new Rock n Roll star that we’re just gonna sit back and say ‘Man I remember when…” he continued.
Knowledge Workers: Powering the City of the Future
Not only does Troppe reflect on the talent that has come out of this town; but the brains as well. He talks a lot about what he refers to as “knowledge workers” or “the economic engines that drive communities”.
Troppe strongly believes in designing creative places for creative people. This, he believes, will make entrepreneurial spirits come alive, leading people to start businesses and hire other creative minds to help them realize and bring to life their ideas.
Perhaps this is a jumpstart in helping fuel our economy, since Troppe believes small business is the backbone of our economy. He says that by starting their own businesses, people will inspire others to want discover their own ideas, designs, and inventions as well. This will all aid in building up a new economy.
A Variety of Arts
Converging culture and commerce to develop a model of sustainability for artists on all different types of levels is important to Troppe.
“One can be a performing artist, the other a visual artist, the other a graphic artist, the other a financial artist- someone who’s very adept at spreadsheets, accounting and financing,” Troppe explained.
His quest since renovating his very first building has been to create a base, platform, and environment for all types of people and art to thrive.
Knowledge workers cannot thrive without knowledge centers, which keep cities alive.
“Cities of the future are built around the knowledge center and that’s what gave me great confidence to help build this intersection again, because of the knowledge centers,” Troppe said.
He’s referring to places that hold creative, professional and advanced thinking, such as the University of Akron, the Federal Courthouse, and healthcare institutions including Summa, Akron General and the Children’s Hospital.
Akron is bursting with these centers.
“We’re at the county seat so we have the municipal and county governments. Folks of all ages come out to do their work and perform their art. We’re in the proximity of the university so we have multi-generations of ideas flowing. You’ve got academic scholars teaching the up-and-comers,” he shared.
His excitement and ideas continue to flow…
“It’s appropriate for us to think about the best and the brightest coming here and being accommodated with professional space, studio space, art space, space to get a cup of coffee, to get something to eat, get a drink, dance, hear music, look at art… Those are the energetic environments that are indicative of a city of the future.”
This model, he says, will shout, “Hey, come see how our city is thriving.
Bringing in the Best and Brightest
The 2007 Coop Himmelb(l)au addition built onto the Akron Art Museum was their first architectural project in the United Sates. This forty-three million dollar addition was designed by the architectural firm primarily located in Austria.
The firms name translates from German into English as “Sky Blue”.
“It’s a very optimistic look. Ultra modern,” Troppe described it.
“We’ve had people from Paris, the L.A. Times, and all over the world come to our coffee shop Mocha Maiden to sit down, have a cup of espresso, look across the street and say ‘Whoa, what is Akron doing that is so progressive that they were the first city in the United States to hire Coop Himmelb(l)au?’,” Troppe pointed out.
Troppe likes the idea of bringing in an international community of artists that are progressive and thoughtful about bringing in great thoughts and ideas from around the world.
“You see Mayor Plusquellic reaching out to Germany, Israel, China and Finland for all of the best and brightest to come here and engage themselves in mechanical and chemical engineering to combine their thoughts to create this whole new biotech industry,” he said.
“Akron has a great legacy of higher learning, regarding invention and innovation, specifically engineering,” he continued.
Being a Light
“When you’re at a high point like this, you have the opportunity to put your talents up on the lamp stand so that the whole world can see,” he said, referring to the fact that Akron is topographically higher than other cities.
He promotes giving back, and using your gifts to serve others.
“We find our own best source of joy in serving others and looking to find ways to help be a part of the solution,” he said. “You take care of yourself best by taking care of others or using your talents, resources, and life-force to help build a place that’s going to allow others to excel.”
Troppe gives accolades to the women of the city, who work either behind the scenes or out in front to help make it what it is. Women sitting in business meetings, stirring up a new recipe, a design or idea…
“I’m thinking of all of the great, influential women around me who have really helped create the environment that makes Maiden Lane an actuality,” Troppe said.
“I’m thinking about the influence of my wife, Jill, and Diana from Crave. Jill’s a lead glass artist, and an artist on all levels. A three dimensional artist. The place we’re sitting in is lit, adorned and embellished by her artistic talents, her skill with color, lighting and textures,” Troppe said.
“It’s the quiet, nurturing, giving spirits that I’ve learned many lessons from. The great females that surround me,” he continued.
If you visit any of the local shops that sell art, you will see Jill’s beautiful work on display.
“There’s a positive energy that emanates from this place that’s properly directed, supervised and orchestrated by all the best and brightest females that this community offers” Troppe said.
The “We” Gallery
The “We” gallery, located above Mocha Maiden, is a treasure filled with artistic wonders hung on the walls and adorning the ceilings and shelves. It invites creative minds and spurs on the imagination, welcoming a variety of the arts.
“We’ll do theatrical arts, comedy acts, abstract, one man shows, monologues, dialogues… All types of talented folks come through our doors,” Troppe said.
With 16 foot tall ceilings and hardwood floors that date back to the early turn of the century, it’s a beautiful space. Its title reflects the thought that it’s not about “I”, but instead, they promote collaborative and collective efforts.
Art is rotated in and out of the gallery every 3-4 weeks in order to feature many different types of local artists. National and regional artists are also invited to come and do shows.
“I’m right in the middle of something big,” Troppe said, “We’re looking at all of the influence that Rock n Roll has had on this region. In this art gallery I’m looking at Chrissie Hynde, Devo, and The Black Keys…all of the great music that has come out of this epicenter of art. It’s really impacted the world in a very positive way with music that expresses the thoughts of the day and the poetry that has welled up out of these talented individuals.”
“We’ve created interesting space for these folks to come and thrive,” he continued, “The idea is to create a stage.”
Musica, voted best place for live music in Akron Life and Leisure’s July 2010 issue, is right next door.
“Whenever you go to great cities around the world you don’t go to Montrose or Fairlawn, you go downtown. You go to the center of where the history emanated from,” he said.
The Perfect Place
Troppe reminisces on moving to Akron 16 years ago, where all he remembers is people pushing around grocery carts, “And they weren’t coming from West Point Market.”
His goal since has been to revive the city, creating a vibrant community.
“There’s a zeal and energy that’s been given to me and I don’t know if I have 50 more years, or 75, or 125, but I’ve got an opportunity each day to put the pedal to the metal, climb uphill and face adversity head on. And that’s innovating, it’s exciting,” he said.
“We took lemons, squeezed them, made lemonade, added a little sugar, a little spice, serve it up everyday, make it nice and here we go! Let’s build the city of the future.”
For some ideas on what you can do in Akron, visit http://www.akronlife.com. Here you’ll find concerts, events, art shows, restaurants and more.