Press Releases

Akron Art Museum's Mitchell Kahan Wins Cleveland Arts Prize's Highest Honor

For Release: June 2008

Each year The Cleveland Arts Prize honors several artists and others who have expanded the community’s participation in the arts. At this year’s awards ceremony, Akron Art Museum Director and CEO Mitchell D. Kahan, Ph.D. will be awarded The Robert P. Bergman Prize. This award, the organization’s highest honor, recognizes an individual who has shown passionate leadership and opened his or her field more broadly. It is named in honor of the late director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and board chairman of the American Association of Museums.

“Dr. Kahan’s unusually long tenure as director of the Akron Art Museum – 22 years next month – is in itself a testament to his success,” said Marcie Bergman of The Cleveland Arts Prize. “In recent years, he has led the evolution of not only the museum, but of Akron as well. The museum’s bold, edgy and striking new $36 million-dollar expansion, which the world architectural press has called not only important for Akron but important for the country, tripled the museum’s gallery space,” continued Bergman.

Since 1986, under Kahan’s leadership, the museum’s operating budget has increased five-fold. Kahan has especially championed growth of the museum’s permanent endowment, which increased almost tenfold to over $23 million, including creation of the institution’s first designated endowment funds for the purchase of art: the Mary and Louis S. Myers Fund for Painting and Sculpture; the John S. and James L. Knight Fund for Photographic Media and the Rory and Dedee O’Neil Acquisitions Endowment.

Kahan and Akron Art Museum chief curator Dr. Barbara Tannenbaum wrote and published an award-winning book on the museum’s collection: Akron Art Museum: Art Since 1850, An Introduction to the Collection. Kahan has brought major traveling exhibitions to Akron from Auguste Rodin to Dale Chihuly and also sent traveling exhibitions organized by Akron Art Museum curators to other museums nationwide and overseas.

The museum’s new Knight Building has been the recipient of national and international awards and extensive media attention worldwide. At the same time as he pursued this project of international significance, Kahan also championed area artists and initiated the effort that led to the creation of Summit Artspace, the arts incubator adjacent to the museum, a collaboration between Akron Area Arts Alliance and Summit County.

Dr. Kahan has been active in regional and national arts organizations and is a founding officer of the Akron Area Arts Alliance and later served as President of the board. He also served as board president for Ohio’s Intermuseum Conservation Association and as president of Akron Roundtable.

Kahan commented, “It has been a privilege to be a part of the art scene in Northeast Ohio. I have worked in big cities and small cities, but there is no better environment in which to work, and there are no better people to work with, than right here in Akron.”

Before moving to Akron in 1986, Kahan was curator of American and modern art at museums in Alabama and North Carolina and was a frequent writer on contemporary art. He holds a Ph.D. in Art History from City University of New York Graduate School and undergraduate and master's degrees from University of Virginia and Columbia University, where he studied architectural history and art history. He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, where his father’s printing company provided him with early and valuable training in publishing, design and marketing.

Dr. Kahan is a past recipient of fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Endowment for the Arts and is a recipient of the Distinguished Museum Professional Award from Ohio Museums Association. He has served on advisory panels for city, state and federal arts agencies and was an art consultant for the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair. He lives in Akron with his partner Christopher Hixson, founder and principal of Incite Creative, a marketing and advertising firm.

The Cleveland Arts Prize, established in 1960, is the oldest award of its kind in the United States. The 2008 awards ceremony will take place on June 26, at the Cleveland Play House. For more information about the Cleveland Arts Prize, call 216-321-0012, e-mail or visit

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