Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. ~Henry Miller As I prepared for my interview with Dylan and Holly Atkinson – two artist-entrepreneurs who have been active in the downtown Canton arts district since, well, since there wasn’t really much of a district to speak of – I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. I can’t quite tell you why, other than to say openly that I was equal parts intimidated and intrigued. I was right to feel one thing, wrong to feel the other. What was intended as a quick interview over drinks extended into an engaging and easy dinner with two of the most unassuming and genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in some time. I was more than a little amused to discover that I wasn’t the only one who might have had the teensiest case of nerves, either. As the interview proceeded, I mostly hoped to get a sense of what it’s really like on the front lines being an artist and for the first time, what it’s like to be an artist couple. The “arts district” in Canton has become a catch-all. It’s not just geography – it’s a way to describe the ineffable wonders of First Fridays, the fun shindigs at local galleries and, most importantly, the creation taking hold of downtown through many an artistic vision. But when you meet someone, especially two someones, who make their livelihoods almost entirely from the ebb and flow of selling or not selling art, the phrase “arts district” takes on a whole new interpretation. I was eager to see what the arts district would look like through the eyes of a couple who are truly engrained in it – at once artists, entrepreneurs, patrons, advocates and, on occasion, portrait muses. But first, let me tell you a bit about the reluctant queen and king of Canton’s Arts District. Dylan and Holly Atkinson are two of the visionaries behind ACME Artists, a gallery located in Studio 5 on Fourth Street. The gallery has earned quite a reputation for featuring forward thinking pieces by serious local artists and at times, quirky, humorous and not-so-serious subject matter. “I remember Mike King having an open house to debut the studios on Fourth Street,” recalls Holly. “From the moment we saw the space, saw Mike’s plan, together with Mark Ball and Christian Harwell, we scraped together the money to venture out. The spaces weren’t even finished yet, but we were in. We just had to get started.” Dylan works primarily in oil, sometimes wax, and really whatever he can get his hands on, drawing or painting. Currently, he’s working on a project for Stark State College’s anatomy department, creating an elaborate set of anatomical drawings – skeletal system, muscular system, nervous system, et. al., the full set. “The goal is to create educational tools for their students that aren’t cartoonish. I’ve got a full skeleton in the backseat of my car right now – this is a serious endeavor!” laughs Atkinson. He also runs Plan 9 Designs, doing everything from graphic and web design to network infrastructure and IT. Plus, he also spends time doing tattoo art at Hollowed Ground Tattoos on Lincoln Way in Massillon. Holly graduated with honors in art history from Kent State University. Her passion for the arts has led her to design a line of beloved artistic greeting cards that she creates from found materials: clippings, magazine covers, vintage paperback art and the like. “I don’t paint or draw well. I started making these cards as gifts for loved ones. Dylan and Christian fell and love with them and urged me to start bringing them to ACME to sell. Now I’m doing them full-time.” She’s found that many people who buy her cards don’t like to send them out, instead collecting them as they would any work of art. “I had a friend buy 40 of them to frame and decorate their kitchen.” Holly has branded her cards “Buffy Cards,” a moniker that she herself has taken on as a badge of humorous pride. “When I was in high school, I went to tennis camp and my hair was about the same as it is now, complete with my signature bow. Some girl assumed my name was something pretentious, something like “Buffy,” and my friends jumped all over it, thought it was hysterical. So there you are, Buffy, it’s my ‘bitch’ name.” The couple has been together for 19 years, married for 13. “Holly comes from a really great family. The most amazing thing about her is that for the first years we were together, I was ‘just an artist’ and I made a meager, meager living. I kept expecting her to ask me ‘when are you going to get a job?’ or ‘what are you going to do with the rest of your life?’ She never did, it was always only about us. She understood.” So, what does the couple make of the “arts district” their work and their hopes call home? “It’s come a long way. When we moved in, there was a lot more street activity, and not necessarily the positive kind. We’ve all still got a long way to go. So yeah, I’d say the best years [of the arts district] are still ahead of it,” says Dylan. And with more and more galleries, studios and retailers sprouting nearby, how does the couple feel about the growth downtown? “Competition for us is positive, and we don’t really look at it as competition in the first place. You don’t want to be an island. We’d rather it be a part of a bigger destination for people to come for art,” says Dylan. An archipelago, if you will. “Our philosophy is to support people who support us. You don’t have to buy when you come in – just come in. We want feedback. We want people to look around and see what we’re doing,” says Holly. Holly and Dylan believe that the most important piece of the arts district’s future is its people. “People are my favorite thing about the arts district,” says Holly. “My father graduated from Lehman in the 50s and he’s still friends with his most of his elementary school friends. I’m friends with exactly two people from high school. Believe me when I say that I’ve truly found my people downtown in the Canton Arts District.” The quote from Henry Miller that begins this article is among the Atkinsons’ favorites, and it’s easy to understand why. They know that the longevity of the arts district hinges on one inescapable truth. If enthusiasm wanes, the community will need to work to replace it with something far more powerful – faith, belief in the artists, belief in the arts. The couple has many irons in the fire, many great big ideas about how they will both shape and be shaped by the arts movement in Canton, and where they’re headed next. Here’s to faith.