The Contemporary Dayton thinks big
Arts center hopes to move to a bigger space at the Arcade.
The Contemporary Dayton, the arts organization formerly known as the Dayton Visual Arts Center, is hoping to become the lead arts anchor for the renovated Arcade in downtown Dayton. If the necessary funds can be raised, the gallery — currently located at 118 N. Jefferson St. — would move in 2020 or early 2021.
“We have had excellent negotiations with the Arcade developers and, importantly, strong support and encouragement for a potential move from the City of Dayton, specifically, Mayor Nan Whaley and City Manager Shelly Dickstein,” board president Chuck Vella says. “In many ways, we’ve been preparing for growth in the size and scope of our audience and providing larger and more innovative presentations of local, national and international artists for some time now.”
Vella says his organization believes there’s room in the minds of local art lovers for a larger presence of contemporary art. The idea is to align itself with contemporary art museums and art centers across the country such as the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus and the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati.
“Contemporary art organizations are public spaces where different people gather
to experience many ideologies,” says Eva Buttacavoli, The Contemporary Dayton’s executive director. “We continue to strive to keep pace with a world that spins at dizzying speed while maintaining intensely close relationships with Dayton-area artists who speak to this place and this life.”
Dave Williams, senior director of Cross Street Partners — lead developer for the Arcade project — says developers are “super excited” about the proposed move. “They have a little bit of work ahead of them,” he says. “It’s my understanding that we’ve come to an agreement on terms and what they’re working on now is donor support to make sure they can handle the move.”
Williams says arts and innovation have always been part of the strategy for the renovated Arcade.
“It’s about bringing unlike disciplines together to come up with new creative ways of looking at things that wouldn’t normally occur,” he explains. “The University of Dayton will bring its arts offerings down to the Arcade as well.” He says plans call for The Contemporary Dayton to be located on the main floor of the building, off the rotunda and the Fourth Street entrance.
In anticipation of a move, the organization — now affectionately known as The Co — is hoping to launch a combined campaign for capital, endowment and expanded programming. “We have done some preliminary talks with the developers and architects and perceive capital costs would be between $400,000 and $600,000,” says Buttacavoli. “We are also doing a feasibility study to consider putting a few other things in the mix, including expanded programming.”
How it evolved
After both quantitative and qualitative research recommended re-branding the organization, it was decided to change the name from Dayton Visual Arts Center to The Contemporary Dayton. The new name, Vella says, better reflects what this organization is and what it could become.
The next step was the development of multiyear strategic and business plans. Now in their final stages, those plans include the potential move to the Arcade.
Buttacavoli says over the past 10 years, the organization has grown operating revenue by 66 percent, produced and presented over 70 shows and helped launch those artists onto the next stage in their career. The group has given more than 300 students their first professional show and sold hundreds of works of art to individuals, businesses and health care. As a result, local artists have received more than $350,000 in art sales commissions.
“Our vision is to be a catalyst and champion for contemporary art through innovative and surprising experiences that inspire audiences to a deeper engagement and enjoyment of art and the impact it makes in our world today,” Buttacavoli says. “Our mission is to provide art for the community and a community for artists.”
The Co currently has 477 members, with 179 self-identified as artists.
“From July 2018 to June 2019, we had 10,400 visitors and served 136,555 through off-site programs,” Buttacavoli says. “Our vision is to serve larger and more diverse audiences and to fill the gap between small community art centers and larger, traditional, collecting museums. We want to showcase the local, national and global artists who boldly interpret our rapidly changing and increasingly complex world and help us understand, critique, and be inspired by it.”
Examples of recent exhibits
■ When installations by Dayton Regional STEM School students were removed from a City of Dayton exhibition due to their political and raciallycharged nature, The Co decided to display the work along with work created in response to the event by three nationally-recognized social justice artist-activists. “The student work alone was impressive and side-byside with the more experienced artists’ responses created a powerful, vibrant energy,” notes Buttacavoli. “Tones of race, gender, and inequality, along with the role of art and the artist in social activism, spoke to and lured the viewer into the dialogue,” says Buttacavoli. The exhibit “Breathing Deeply, Pushing Back” was curated by Michael Casselli, an artist and professor at Antioch College.
■ In 2017, an exhibit called “The Secrets Girls Keep” featured new work by three artists that commented on coming-of-age issues faced by contemporary girls and women.
■ The U.S. premiere of a 400-print installation by Ohio University professor Art Werger as well as a sixpanel piece, currently the largest mezzotint (a printmaking process) in the world. The images conveyed familiar, everyday beach, street and forest scenes.
■ “With Devotion” slated for Jan. 17-Feb. 15, will be the gallery’s most ambitious curatorial project to-date. It will launch ‘Still She Creates,’ commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment with four exhibitions curated by four nationally-recognized curators featuring 11 Dayton and Ohio women artists.”
■ The Co’s current exhibit, “And Then Unfold,” features artists Diana Behl (South Dakota), Jack St. John (Ohio) and Nishiki Sugawara-Beda (Texas). Buttacavoli says the title describes an action or process that alludes to the undoing or uncovering of something yet to be known. Behl says it suggests “a slow-paced action; the unfolding of paper, maps, and letters; an ambiguity of not quite knowing what is next; the revealing of a layered recording.”
Vella says next on the agenda is to launch a comprehensive campaign to raise awareness and funds for capital costs, endowment and a reserve for expanded programming.
If it’s successful, the goal will be to transform an “off-the-beaten-path gallery” to the center of the Arcade, a mixed-use historic, academic, housing, retail and contemporary art destination.
“We’ll go from 3,600 to 6,300 square feet of space, from one gallery to four and from hosting an annual holiday gift gallery to a year-round art store,” says Buttacavoli.
Strictly speaking, she says, the term “contemporary art” refers to art made and produced by artists living today who work in and respond to an environment that is culturally diverse, technologically advancing and multifaceted. “Working in a wide range of mediums, contemporary artists reflect and comment on modern-day society, traditional ideas of how art is defined, what constitutes art, and how art is made while creating a dialogue with — and in some cases rejecting — the styles and movements that came before them.”
When engaging with contemporary art, Buttacavoli. says, The Co seeks to challenge viewers to set aside questions such as “Is a work of art good?” or “Is the work aesthetically pleasing?” Instead, viewers are encouraged to consider whether art is “challenging” or “interesting” and how clearly or successfully it presents the artist’s intentions.
The Contemporary Dayton hopes to move to the Arcade. Shown left to right: Exhibition Committee Chair Amelia Hounshell, Executive Director & Chief Curator Eva Buttacavoli and Board Chair Chuck Vella.
With Devotion will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Pictured, “Stumbling Blocks” by Jenniffer Omaitz.