Street art

Art in the City takes over downtown Dayton

Photo: Dancers perform on Main Street for Art in the City, a square-mile celebration of the arts in downtown Dayton, this year on Aug. 4

By Tim Smith

Take a walk through downtown Dayton Aug. 4 and you’ll see art everywhere, from building lobbies to posters advertising theatrical productions.

Art in the City is designed to call attention to local art and its embeddedness in Dayton’s fabric. This second annual event has expanded to include performance art as well as the visual variety.

Art in the City is part of the annual Summer in the City program coordinated by the Downtown Dayton Partnership. It’s a joint venture with the Dayton Visual Arts Center, the Victoria Theatre Association, and the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance. It’s being billed as an open local art competition in bars, restaurants, lobbies, and other businesses in one square mile of downtown Dayton.

Eva Buttacavoli, executive director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center, says the idea to include performance art at this year’s event was a joint decision from all four organizations.

“We’ve been working with the Downton Dayton Partnership for the past 10-15 years on various arts initiatives that happen downtown,” Buttacavoli explains. “It evolved from First Fridays, then Summer in the City, the River Run Adventure Race, then the Dayton Home tour. We did those three years ago and they were great, but were done separately. We found that the audiences really liked bopping around to see the arts and performances. We’re doubling our manpower to double our audience.”

The project was inspired by a very successful event in another state.

“We modeled Art in the City after a nationally known project called Art Prize, in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” Buttacavoli says. “They utilized 400 venues and 400 artists. We’ve managed to get 25-30 businesses to participate each year to display art. We took something that is known nationally and scaled it down to Dayton size. The Downtown Dayton Partnership concentrated their projects around a certain square mile radius in downtown Dayton and they have approached businesses about participating in the event. We started out with the idea of 25 but had more [businesses] that wanted to participate. After the two-week exhibition and voting period, it’s up to the businesses if they want to keep the artwork on display or buy the art. We’ve started the process for the artist.”

Other components of Art in the City include performance art such as opera, ballet, modern dance, marionettes, classical music, jazz, folk music, theatrical stage productions, and magicians. There will also be presentations sponsored by Dayton Poetry Slam, Story Slamm Dayton, and Film Dayton.

Angela Whitehead, Dayton Performing Arts Alliance media and communications manager, stressed the desire for diversity in the performing arts when choosing performers for the event.

“Naturally, we wanted to have our three art forms represented,” Whitehead says. “We are offering performances by Dayton Opera singers, the Dayton Philharmonic’s trio and string duo, and an open Dayton Ballet rehearsal and class. Visitors are invited to drop in and observe.”

Adding to the family-friendly atmosphere is one of the DPAA’s more unique offerings, a musical petting zoo.

“A musical petting zoo is basically an opportunity for participants to touch, hold, feel, and even attempt to make sound with various musical instruments from the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra,” Whitehead says. “The petting zoo is always part of the fun activities that we hold in the Wintergarten theatre before our family concerts and is a big hit for children and adults. People might not feel comfortable taking their children to the Schuster for a concert, but this is one way to expose them to different types of music.”

The spirit of the roving artists atmosphere is exemplified by Party on the Patio. Nearly 20 downtown bars and restaurants will play host to local musicians and artists.

“The idea is to increase foot traffic in their business,” Buttacavoli says. “It makes a good family night out or family gathering. People come in to eat, get coffee, see the exhibit or performance, and view the art on display. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

The selection process for all artists, whether visual or performance, was handled with certain criteria in mind.

“Things need to be structurally sound, of a high accomplishment, and need to reflect the loose theme of summer in the city,” Buttacavoli says. “Jurors are made up of DVAC and DPAA artists, and members of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. For an exhibition of this magnitude, we’re looking to represent all kinds of people and all different artists.”

Buttacavoli says she feels that events like Art in the City give needed momentum to the local arts community.

“We have a great museum in Dayton, we serve hundreds and hundreds of artists in the Dayton area, but not everyone is comfortable with having a conversation about art in the street,” Buttacavoli says. “You go into AAA Tire, the Century Bar, or M.J.’s and there will be art where there normally is not. There needs to be more venues for a city the size of Dayton to display visual and performing arts. We’re experiencing a renaissance of sorts for the artists after the economic downturn. Smaller venues give artists the forum to display their work. The artists still live here so they’re going to roll up their sleeves and do it on their own.”

Art in the City takes place Friday, Aug. 4, from 5–9 p.m. The Downtown Dayton Partnership will have three information stations set up, one in the Oregon District, one near Dave Hall Plaza, and another near the Schuster Center. The event is free. Maps are available at any of these locations, as well as participating businesses. For more information, please visit or call 937.224.1518.

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at

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