Take the Shush out of the shelves

Dayton Metro Library’s Innovative Check out the Arts program

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) principal dancer Qarrianne Blayr will perform with DCDC as part of the Check Out the Arts program; photo: Indigo Life Media, Kameron Davis

The arts have always been an integral part of society and civilization. From the earliest drawings on walls in caves to the most avant garde modern theatre, the ability of creative expression to inform and illuminate stands, arguably, as humankind’s greatest achievement.

The path from the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution was carved by the ability to attack problems in creative ways. The introspection and self awareness that defines the human condition can be heard in the work of J.S. Bach, seen in the frantic vision of Jackson Pollock and can be read in the twisted voice of Kurt Vonnegut.

While big cities are often seen as artistic epicenters, Dayton also boasts a remarkable variety and volume of creative avenues, according to Chuck Duritsch.

“You think about what we have here—like Dayton Contemporary Dance Company that is known throughout the world,” Duritsch says. “We have a wonderful art museum. We have wonderful galleries and local artists. We have an equity theatre in the Human Race Theatre Company and a wonderful philharmonic. So, we need to let more and more people know about this.”

Duritsch’s official title is the external relations manager for Dayton Metro Library, but he has also served as the marketing director for Dayton Opera and later for the Dayton Arts Alliance. In March of this year, he began to organize a new library program dubbed Check Out the Arts.

The program features nearly 30 local artists and organizations that will partner with the library system to bring interactive events to the community.

“These programs are for every age group,” Duritsch says. “Sometimes, they’re family-oriented. There has to be a hands-on element, something more than a lecture. I didn’t want it to be dry and boring. The biggest thing is all of these programs are free and open to the public.”

The Dayton Metro Library’s mission is to “inform, inspire and enrich.” Duritsch says these programs and the partners involved are a natural extension of that. And that level of engagement is especially important at a time when technology is changing the way all art is consumed.

At one time, art and knowledge belonged only to the elite. Through the centuries, inventions like moveable type, radio and television gradually brought the possibility of culture to the masses. Public libraries have always been at the forefront of that democratic dissemination of information.

Having access to every book, piece of music and film ever made on a handheld device in one’s pocket does allow access, but it also fragments it. It divides the culture. Context is lost. Staring at a screen with headphones on stops a conversation from happening and stunts a community’s social growth.

Duritsch thinks that loss of socialization undermines any art’s ultimate potential.

“There’s nothing like a live performance or seeing a piece of art or to hear a poem recited—to have that in person, I think nothing beats that,” Duritsch says. “I think it’s great to always share that experience with an audience. I think in my lifetime that will never be replaced by technology—that thrill. That said, I think the goal of Dayton Metro Library is to become a gathering place for different communities. We do offer advanced technology and spaces where that can be shared. The library is a lot more than books. It’s experiences.”

The experiences with Check Out the Arts span a wide variety of topics.

Brian LaDuca is the director of ArtStreet and Institute for Arts Nexus at the University of Dayton.

“ArtStreet has been a model for the traditional arts center at the University of Dayton for probably the last 10-12 years,” LaDuca says. “Over the last two or three years, we have been really evolving the process so it removes itself from the cliché, generic art center into something that’s more advantageous for the student, staff and faculty here on campus.”

He says the library’s goals closely mirror what he hopes Art Street and IAN will offer.

“We’ve become more of a multi-disciplinary home base for students, faculty and staff to explore new horizons around their expertise and the work they’re studying,” LaDuca says. “Watching how the libraries, not just here in Dayton but in the entire nation, are working so hard to remove the old static stale stigma that is the library into a place that is also multi-disciplinary. People want to come in and make things and tinker with things—really expand their horizons. The libraries are the perfect place for that. We just feel like if they’re doing that, and we’re trying to do it from the academic side, we’re perfect partners.”

Another participating organization is Black Box Improv Theater.

Director and owner Justin Howard says the theatre’s aesthetic works well within the program’s construct because they don’t need sets, costumes or big production value to bring improv to the people.

A teen program will focus on the comedy side of improvisation, while an adult version will look to help with workplace communication skills.

“Nationwide for years, there has been a trend in corporate America using improv training to help with a variety of professional skills,” Howard says. “All improv exercises are on-your-feet sort of things. A lot of times you’re being put into a certain type of scenario, and the scenario will push you personally in a direction. For communication, we use it a lot to help people with confidence of their communication and their comfort level with the way they communicate. We’ll use it to help them understand how to express the meaning of something better or how to connect with people. A lot of communication is listening and listening is a huge tenant of improvisation.”

Howard says Black Box is similar to many arts organizations in terms of hoping to expand their audience. However, they have the added challenge of defining improv for the public at large.

“Stand-up comedy is something that has been around for a long time and people understand that,” Howard says. “Theatre is something people understand, but improv is kind of in this weird world in between. For the most part, people in Dayton have not been exposed to true improvisation.”

Gloria Pugh, director of education for Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, also says working with the library made a lot of sense.

The Arts Alliance already had a program in place called School Partners with Artists Reaching Kids or SPARK, which placed musicians into classrooms to help teachers.

The idea was to use music and professional musicians to augment the education process. It is a partnership that not only benefits the students and schools, but also the musicians.

“For the community, it’s an opportunity to see a professional musician in a very intimate setting—to have an opportunity to chat with them, ask questions and for the kids to hear the power of those instruments when they’re in a smaller space,” Pugh says. “For the performers, they are used to playing on the Schuster stage. They walk out, they play their music, people applaud and they leave. They don’t often get to have these more intimate interactions with the community and kids.”

Certainly children will be a focus, but these programs offer a little bit for everyone.

“We’re trying to reach everyone and the way we’re doing this is through an array of programs,” Duritsch says. “We have more than 120 programs scheduled from September through December. They start with toddlers experiencing movement classes taught by a choreographer and dancer. For seniors, we have programs such as collage making, mobile making and creative drawing.”

The arts offer a number of benefits for not only the individuals willing to participate but also to the communities with a strong arts presence.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit comes in the form of stimulating creativity. The goal might be to develop problem-solving skills in early education or to sharpen the mental facilities of the elderly. Also, cities with strong arts districts bring in tourism dollars that extend to local restaurants and bars. They create a positive mindset toward the community and attract young residents.

Duritsch cites a simpler goal: to engage people and expose them to the vibrant arts and music scene both in and around the city.

“Hopefully, they will walk away having a positive experience and potentially want to attend a similar type performance, gallery or showing—whatever the art form is,” Duritsch says. “We want people to experience. We want people to make noise. We want people to move.”

The Dayton Metro Library’s Check Out the Arts program will run at various locations through the end of the year. Nearly 30 area organizations are participating.  Admission to the more than 120 events is free and open to the public. Pick up a fall guide at any Dayton Metro Library location. For more information and a complete schedule, please visit daytonmetrolibrary.org/arts or call 937.463.BOOK.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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