The future belongs to those still willing to get their hands dirty
By Shayna V. McConville
Trains frequently rumble by above the two-acre plot of green space at the corner of Fourth Street and Wayne Avenue. Between the elevated tracks and the park below, colorful murals bridge the gap between transient and static. Started in 2008 by a group of artists called the Dayton Circus Creative Collective, Garden Station was initiated out of a need for a community garden and experimental public art space in downtown Dayton. Now it is a destination committed to urban agriculture, education, art and DIY sustainable practice.
Tirelessly supervising the needs of the park and guiding its future, full-time volunteer Lisa Helm has spent her days and weekends leading groups of other volunteers to create a vibrant green space that attracts the curious, the artistic, experienced and novice gardeners, and those that simply want to be part of a dialogue in homegrown food and art. Influenced by the creative process, outsider art and design integrated with architecture and earth, the space has hosted weddings, a Sunday farmer’s market during the summer, band performances, fundraisers, theater productions, drum circles and more. Garden Station is flourishing as one of the most dynamic and unique gathering places in Dayton.
Garden Station is just one of the many initiatives that have materialized recently in Dayton, sparked by an energy to create from scratch a solution to the common desires of a community. Without the fuel of volunteer time, donated material, scavenged resources, and the abundance of affordable or vacant accessible locations, this and other efforts would simply not exist.
Across the street and beyond the overgrown sidewalk, housed in a deceptively modest one-story building last occupied by the Yellow Cab Company, is the home of the Dayton Circus Creative Collective. Walking into the building is an experience of contradiction: the lobby is a perfectly preserved room decorated decades ago with carpeted walls now embellished with paintings and other two-dimensional works; a platform and chairs are placed around the garage’s hydraulic lifts; the greenish hue of florescent lights hum from room to room.
Contending and transforming the well-defined characteristics of this building is not the point of the Circus; this 7,000-square foot space was established to host artist studios and year-round events, exhibitions, art and craft workshops, music festivals, performance pieces and an easily accessible destination for a dialogue with other creative people. The Dayton Circus began in 2006 by the organizers of the popular “Sideshow,” an annual downtown Dayton event showcasing the region’s visual and musical talent in derelict buildings and donated spaces until settling into their new year-round home.
Completely sustained by its volunteer members, the Circus strives to give artists a place to be inventive and the encouragement to experiment with ideas and test their abilities.
“For me, the Circus has always been about ideals,” said member Jeff Opt. “We are trying to make Dayton a more creative and interesting place to live and to draw in members of the community through art that might not otherwise connect.”
The home in the Yellow Cab building is dedicated to being a safe place for artists and audiences and for providing a space outside of the established fine art galleries and museums. As Opt put it, “even as someone who helps put on our events, I am still amazed at the amount of new things I see on a regular basis, just because we try to be so open to everyone.”
Just a few years ago this block of Fourth Street was a no-man’s-land, making the pedestrian journey between the Oregon District and the Cannery unappealing. The lot that Garden Station currently occupies had been vacant for over 40 years and was a homeless camp and a railway car storage yard. Several yards further east on Fourth Street, where the Yellow Cab building sits, semi-truck parking dwarfs the small side streets and dark lots. Now on the first Friday of the month, this area is alive with live music, art exhibition happenings, and crowds of people stimulated by the vitality of these destinations.
The investment of time and honing of resources to sustain these initiatives is demanding, and the life span of these and other DIY projects vary greatly. Bringing the vision of a downtown urban garden and an artistic hub mark a huge niche in the local community and the support for the Circus and Garden Station is evident in their high attendance. When visitors remark they had no idea that something like Garden Station, for example, could exist in Dayton, Helm is thrilled to respond, “Let’s make Dayton the kind of place we want to live.” Thanks to these efforts, the corner of Fourth and Wayne is a testament to the wealth of our creative Dayton.
Learn more about these initiatives at www.daytoncircus.org and www.daytongardenstation.org.
Shayna V. McConville is the Cultural Arts Manager for the City of Kettering. Visit her at Rosewood Arts Centre at 2655 Olson Dr. or visit the website at rosewood.ketteringoh.org. She can be reached at ShaynaMcConville@DaytonCityPaper.com.