Fine Arts and Fest

​Big Love at "Big Love"

Chad W. Lutz
​With as much hubbub as I’d heard about the festival basically since the final hours of last year’s event wound down to zero, you would have thought I was attending the World’s Fair. Well, it wasn’t quite to that kind of scope, but the Big Love Festival that took place in Akron last night drew hundreds of health-conscious, environmentally concerned, and mindful individuals to a scene straight out of Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love. And it’s no wonder, considering the main missions of organizing groups the likes of Akron Area Arts Alliance and Akron Peace Project are about just that: promoting the ideas of Peace and Love through art.
 
The event took place in the Summit Art Space building on the corner of S. Summit St. and E. Market St. downtown. Organized and promoted by Akron Area Arts Alliance and managed by Summit County, Summit Art Space serves as a sort of common grounds for local artists to perform and workshop their crafts. The building originally served as the first site for the Akron Beacon Journal, which now resides on E. Exchange St. across town. Summit Art Space officially opened after a lease agreement between 1991-born Akron Area Arts Alliance and city and county governments in September 2002. The building hosts ongoing and continuously evolving galleries featuring local artists and art students of all ages. It’s a great place to get lost for a few hours, and its an even better place to discover your own unique artistic talents and tastes. This year’s Big Love festival represents the third installment of the event.
Canton-native Aria Gingerich plays a rather colorful piano in the main lobby of Summit Art Space during Big Love 2016
​People dressed in eclectic blends of chic 1960’s garb mixed with new-age hipster fashions. Ear lobes were gauged, hair was dreaded, lips, noses, eyebrows, even cheeks and manubrium were pierced. It looked like a steampunk love affair. Everywhere you turned were bright colors, bright sounds, and even brighter smiles. People danced; complete strangers stopped to talk in the building stairwells. You could smell blends of cardamom and jasmine teas blending with the effervescent scents of patchouli and lavender. Signs on vendor displays encouraged patrons to “Please Touch”, to “Try This,” and, “Ask for a Sample…or Just Take One.” Large groups of people, young, old, and everything in between, danced to the sounds of bands playing local tunes and world music. ​After an hour of walking around, one got the feeling the entire place was like a giant playground for adults and children.
The crowd gets into an Umojah Nation harmonica-infused version of Bob Marley's "Stir It Up"
​Big Love kicked off at 11:00am with a few messages from Terra Amma Spiritual Center, an organization specializing in holistic healing practices. Then it was all about music, food, and art. Over twenty-five acts, including area favorites Acid Cats, Angie Haze Project, and Zach and the Bright Lights, took to two different stages located on the second and third floors. Painters set up easels or simply laid canvas down on the floor and created colorful landscapes while onlookers stood and watched. The best part is that festival-goers could ask questions about what people were painting as it was happening in real-time. But my stomach begs to differ.
 
The best part of the festival was the food. Lining the third floor were about a half-dozen tables featuring peak eats from cruelty free and organic establishments like Mustard Seed Café and Ms. Julie’s Kitchen. Suffering from marathon brain, I forgot to bring cash; Festival Foul 101. Luckily, my friend Brett was willing to spot me for a Mock Tuna sandwich from Ms. Julie. The chickpea salad pita creation was both tangy and sweet with a savory paprika kick. Let’s just say every morsel that accidentally fell to the floor (I’m an historically messy eater) brought about a small pang of remorse.
 
Sounds officially ended at midnight, but the party moved down the street to Musica, where an after party featuring DJ Naeno, Neon Tetra, and DAMIEN LAUDERBACH played on until 3:00am, just a small example of the sense of community that helped power the festival. And that was really the essence of the whole thing. The event’s Facebook page served as a forum for vendors and organizers to call on community members for help. Participants posted calls for tables, chairs, rugs, whatever, and people responded. And that sense of community permeated to the people who came.

​"​I really felt a sense of community and that people were happy to come together and celebrate," attendee Brett Drummond of Akron said of the event. “What a cool, hip and happening festival!"

Brett wasn't alone. Walking around, it was easy to see the joy on everyone's faces. And it was a solid reminder that progressive attitudes are prevailing in Ohio's Rust-Belt cities. One of my favorite parts was being pestered by the clipboard-wielding voter registration guy. He went around asking every single person if they were registered to vote at their current addresses. If not, he hounded them until they registered. I made sure to high-five him every chance I could. There were also three giant whiteboards set up where people could mark what they felt Akron needs. Simple things like "Salsa Club," "Trees", and "More Carnivals" appeared on boards in addition to "Intergenerational Community Centers", "Cultural Historical Recognition", and, of course, what no Akronite should ever go without, the  "El Trompo Taco Truck." Triple-T for short. Good ideas people.

Word.

If Big Love is any indication of what lies ahead for Akron, big things are store. While the festival is over, community members can still get involved. Contact Akron Peace Project, Akron Area Arts Alliance, or even us, on ways to give back and do more.