From Front Street to Nanjing

Dimensions of 2014 in the arts

By Susan Byrnes

Photo: The Orgullo Mexicano Dancers perform at Rosewood Arts Centre’s 2014 Art On The CommonsPhoto courtesy of Rosewood Arts Centre

I have often heard it said that Dayton is fortunate to have the amount and quality of arts it has for a city its size. And while luck may play some part in that, much of the credit has to go to the hard work and tenacity of the artists, art administrators, art advocates and art lovers who continue to keep the energy of a lively, welcoming and risk-taking arts community flowing. To revisit notable artistic aspects of 2014, I contacted artists and arts leaders in the area to get their impressions of the past year’s creative successes.

“Collaboration seemed to be the theme this year,” said artist Leesa Haapapuro, who created projects with homeless women and children, as well as incarcerated people, in collaboration with K12 Gallery for Young People/TEJAS in 2014. She also highlighted another recent creative partnership. “I love that the Dayton Metro Library worked with the Dayton Art Institute and local artists to commission new works,” she said, speaking of the DML/DAI’s ReImagining Works project that includes new art from regional artists inspired by the DAI collection for new and renovated library sites around the city.

Peter Benkendorf of The Collaboratory also embarked on a new partnership with Amy Epstein, owner and manager of the Front Street art studio complex, and artist Mike Elsass to initiate an art hop called Third Sundays @ Front Street, an outgrowth of 3rd on Third, Dayton’s eclectic outdoor market. Benkendorf said this new initiative is “part of a long-range plan to spark retail and residential development along East Third Street, between Keowee and Linden and on into the Huffman Historic District.”

Shayna McConville, Cultural Arts Manager of the Rosewood Arts Centre and a co-organizer for PechaKucha Dayton, commented on the vibrancy in the connections between art and community. She was pleased to report that this year thousands of people attended Rosewood events like Art on the Commons, SuburbIcon: Comic Creator Expo and A Rosewood Holiday in order to, she said, “enjoy the experience of being in an environment of great creative energy.” She went on to say, “We saw a huge swell in interest in family engagement with the arts at special events. … This year I saw more families participating, more kids finding confidence in their artistic abilities. Not only did I see this take place at Rosewood, but around the community.”

Exhibits and events challenged audiences as well as entertained them. Dennie Eagleson, photographer and former creative director of Antioch College’s Herndon Gallery, recalled the gallery’s Living as Form exhibition developed by Creative Time in New York, a traveling exhibit that showed 20 projects of social practice and community engagement from across the globe. “As Antioch’s contribution,” Eagleson said, “the organizers (former Antioch professor Sara Black and guest artists Jillian Soto and Anthony Romero) created a symposium including Micha Cárdenas, transgender performance artist and community organizer from Los Angeles, and The Compass Group, who presented a day-long People’s Hearing on Monsanto.”

One aspect of the success several artists spoke about referenced the many roles artists take on in the community, including teacher, mentor, producer, curator, organizer, researcher or collaborative partner. With a project called Radio Waves, performance artist and WYSO Community Voices producer Will Davis worked with students at Kettering Fairmont High School to create radio stories around the Victoria Theatre presentation of Memphis the Musical.

“My experience with this project impacted me significantly as [an] artist,” he said. “The students I mentored are our next generation of media producers, and I am proud of and inspired by them. I learned as much as I taught about storytelling. I also think this project was significant because it demonstrated how different organizations in Dayton can partner and create, with spectacular results. (Radio Waves stories can be heard at victoriatheatre.com.)

Artist Willis “Bing” Davis (no relation to Will), who has mentored many artists, is a prolific creator in several media and is founder and president of EbonNia Gallery and Shango: Center for the Study of African American Art and Culture.

“My best, favorite, and most important art experience for 2014 was serving as project designer and curator for the Kin Killin’ Kin art exhibit that was developed into a traveling art exhibit and is touring the U.S.,” Davis said. “This visually powerful and thought-provoking exhibit by Dayton artist James Pate focuses on the social ill of youth and gun violence and has proved to be a creative and innovative way to engage youth and community in positive dialogue to find sustainable solutions to urban and suburban gun violence.”

So far, the exhibit has traveled to Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Sarasota, Florida; and Fayetteville, North Carolina, with more locations in the works.

Glenna Jennings, an assistant professor of photography at University of Dayton, Collaboratory collaborator and participant in DVAC’s recent show, Variations on Likeness, expanded Dayton’s creative reach to China.

“Dayton traveled with me to Nanjing in the form of several historic NCR photos that I showed to locals in parks and exhibited at the Nanjing University of the Arts’ museum,” she said. “For this ongoing project, titled Looking at Looking, I am drawing parallels between social welfare programs in 20th century corporate American culture and public exercise in China. So I was able to take a very small part of our local culture and begin to mobilize it in a very different part of the globe.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at SusanByrnes@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at SusanByrnes@DaytonCityPaper.com

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