Dayton Visual Arts Center:  A Trip to A Small Contemporary Arts Center

July 1st, 2018  |  Published in June 2018

Take an hour-long ride to Dayton from Cincinnati and discover the Dayton Visual Arts Center, a proponent of contemporary art, in a small building on 118 N. Jefferson St. in the heart of downtown.

Open the doors and you will find a narrow, white-washed gallery of 1,800 square feet with a current Urban Landscapes show.  Paintings by Cincinnati artists Marlene Steele and Ray Hassard hang on the walls.

“It is a collection of expansive pastels and oils inspired by the stark shape of machines and buildings in the constantly changing cityscapes of the Midwest – an example of revitalization of American infra-structure,” according to DVAC literature, which reflects the center’s contemporary focus.  The show closes June 16, 2018.

Executive director Eva Buttacavoli

Executive director Eva Buttacavoli met this writer on a day in May to talk about DVAC, as it is commonly known.

DVAC is a small 501©(3) organization with a staff of six and eighteen on the board.  Local artist Terry Welker, now chief building officer for Kettering, said the board is one of its strengths with a diversity of members whose background includes architecture, law, marketing and finance.

The center has provided art for the community and a community for artists since 1991.

Executive director Eva Buttacavoli

Founders of DVAC were a coalition of Dayton-area artists, art supporters and visual arts professionals who saw a need for more interaction between the public and regional artists.

DVAC presents 10 to 12 shows annually.  Four are original, DVAC-curated premieres of new work.  Artists come from Dayton as well as throughout the Midwest selected by panels of national arts professionals.  Some of the other six to eight shows include open member shows, The Cline Show for students and the Holiday Show, none of which are juried.

The center tries to do a solo show of mid-career artists of new work each May; this year, however, it is a two-person show. The center also hosts a juried show biennially with artists from local, state and national regions.

The center celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017.  It enabled 25 artists from the Dayton-Cincinnati corridor to create new work.

Sandra K. Gudorf, president, Downtown Dayton Partnership, said, “Eva is passionate about the talent we have in the community.”  The organization has worked with DVAC, K12 Gallery and TEJAS on the Urban Art Intersections project with murals applied to downtown buildings.

Gudorf’s role is to help transform Dayton into a vibrant place, which includes the arts.  More people want to live downtown and have a variety of amenities nearby.  “Arts add quality to life,” she said.

Yet, Gudorf remarks that Dayton is coming out of a deep recession.  “It’s never easy,” she said, to rebuild a city.  There is plenty of competition with both quantifiable and intangible factors.

She now sees, however, a resurgence of the downtown community.  “Dayton knows how to work together,” she said, “and face challenges.  We have made a lot of progress.”

Buttacavoli said DVAC will undergo a brand refresh campaign this summer as well as a capital campaign.  Three major developers have obtained a loan of several million dollars from the city to restore the historic Dayton arcade.  Located in Dayton’s central business district, the arcade is a collection of five buildings built between 1902 and 1904. The National Register of Historic Places added the arcade to its roster in 1975, but the arcade fell into disrepair by the early 1990’s.

DVAC is considering moving into that space by 2021 as part of the arts anchor.  Annual foot traffic would increase by 100,000; exhibition and storage space would triple.  In addition, University of Dayton is solidifying a partnership with DVAC by planning to move its Art Department into the arcade.

Gudorf mentions the arcade as an excellent example of a significant, historic building where the community did heavy lifting to resurrect the project.

The art scene in Dayton offers few commercial galleries or an MFA program given by a local college. DVAC partners with several organizations, however, including Rosewood Art Centre in Kettering.

Director and chief executive officer of the Dayton Art Institute Michael R. Roediger said that Dayton is a rich cultural community with local artists as well as the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance (opera, ballet and philharmonic orchestra) and Broadway productions – even though the city is small.

Roediger, a colleague of Buttacavoli, often talks with her about how they can help each other.  Funding is a concern.  Roediger said, “No gift is a small gift.”

Buttacavoli said, “We’re small and nimble.”  But, the organization struggles for funds; the budget is limited and does not include marketing expenses.  The organization is slightly in the red.  “It is better than treading water,” she added.

“We’re not diversified enough with funding and grant applications in comparison to other nonprofits,” she said.  “You just can’t depend just on events.”  As a result, DVAC sells art to organizations such as hospitals.  She added that some of the larger corporate entities in Dayton, however, do not support the arts.

Artist and assistant professor of art at Sinclair Community College Bridgette Bogle has a background in painting, drawing, collage and textile art.  With an MFA from Ohio State University in 2003, Bogle comes from a family of artists from whom she drew her inspiration to create and eventually teach.

Bogle reiterated that DVAC is a major nonprofit contemporary art center, which focuses on living artists, in Dayton.  It is on a smaller scale than the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, but serves that function for Daytonians.

DVAC also encourages emerging artists who bring in work to exhibit, according to Bogle.  It connects artists for potential exhibits at galleries and museums.

Bogle said, “There is a do – it – yourself spirit in Dayton.”  She feels that DVAC fills a void.

Different from other institutions, DVAC offers a series of Artist Palate Parties where attendees meet in artists’ studios and collectors’ homes for food and viewing art for sale. Welker thinks this is a highlight of DVAC’s programs.

DVAC also has a program called Community Supported Art where people are invited to buy a share from a portfolio of four DVAC-curated, local prints.  The first Orphan Art Sale on August 18, 2018 is another unusual event where people can bring in art they want to donate.  The center has one of two Art-o-mats in the state.  Formerly a cigarette vending machine, it features a variety of artwork for sale.

Welker, Fellow, American Institute of Architects, was a member of the Miami Valley Arts Association, the precursor to DVAC.  An architect and sculptor, he contributed to DVAC as a sponsor and event coordinator.  When he joined the staff in the city of Kettering, he had less time to devote to art, but he still worked in his studio.

Artist Terry Welker

Welker appreciated the critique DVAC experts provided as well as the association of artists.  He would like to expand into more galleries, museums and exhibitions on a national level receiving coaching on how to approach those organizations as well as establishing a network.

“You can learn new things,” Welker, 62, said.  Art and travel are now part of his world.  “DVAC brings a level of professionalism on a personal level to artists,” he said.  DVAC is always trying new things, according to Welker.  “You’re always going to piss someone off,” he said.  But, that goes with the territory.

He finds a supportive community of artists in Dayton — more so than in many other cities.  Part of an artist’s growth is the ability to collaborate.  “DVAC has taught us our chops on how to succeed professionally,” he said.

–Laura A. Hobson

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