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You Are Here

June 3, 2012

“Worry is tied to the past; anxiety to the future; peace to the present,” Terry Welker commented in his description of Dayton, Ohio: You Are Here, a multi-disciplinary, collaborative effort planned for September’s Urban Nights.  Welker, along with collaborators Christina Pereyma, Peter Benkendorf, Teresa Olavarria, Denise Brooks, Glenna Jennings, James Balmer, and Rodney Veal, have spent the past several months brainstorming on how to create a shared experience in downtown Dayton through artistic interventions.

The idea grew out of a previous project created by Involvement Advocacy’s TECH-ARTS Collaboration (which includes many of individuals mentioned above), with participants each working in his/her field of expertise to add an element.  The finished piece, which also premiered at Urban Nights, included dance, music, engineering, lighting design, and visual arts.  Following its success, You Are Here has organically evolved with an open source methodology, allowing everyone to participate and share and to be open to multiple interpretations, and not require a consensus for the end result.

The project’s conceptual root is Kairos, an ancient Greek word meaning the right time or the time between the past and the future.  “What are we doing today to make a difference? Although a simple question, it’s very important,” Welker added.  “Dayton’s legacy in art and technology innovation needs to continue to be defined and celebrated.  In terms of regional identity we get caught up in the past and we become anxious about the future.  This does not define our whole identity; we can honor the past by living in the moment.  What are we going to do right now?”

In the shadow of larger cities like Columbus and Cincinnati, Dayton has long struggled with its perception as an in-between city instead of a destination that is distinctly unique.  “Cultural openness is more difficult to find in larger cities,” Welker said.  “It’s about eliminating distance and using contrast to bring out the cities unique characteristics.”  Fellow artist Christina Pereyma continued, “Merging is the opposite of isolation and neither one is completely healthy. This is what interests me; a community identity crisis.  I am a first generation American from an ethnic household; an ethnic community make cities wonderful places, but when they don’t integrate and they separate themselves, the importance of their presence is lost.”

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Dayton is its robust arts community.  Unlike the neighboring larger cities, Dayton hosts unique creative, home-grown organizations, including the Dayton Visual Arts Center, the Blue Sky Project, Free Shakespeare!, Zoot Theatre Company, and many more.  “We have our own unique perspective,” Welker said.

September’s event will be focused on the geocentric point of the Old Courthouse on Main and East Third Streets.  The historic building will be activated with art installations and other creative activity.  “If the courthouse was located somewhere else it may not have been as important to this project,” Welker said.  The Courthouse itself will be transformed by art, with its signature Greek Revival columns covered by textiles created by Wini Feidler, Carroll Schleppi and the Miami Valley Art Quilt Network, with additional lighting and signage integrated into the façade.

Additional works scheduled include original spoken word pieces by Free Shakespeare!’s Chris Shea and urban poet Sierra Leone; dancer and choreographer Rodney Veal will use the city grid as his stage for a performance; artist Loretta Puncer will organize a plein-air painting event.  Other technology will be employed, including time-lapse photography to document the evening’s public spaces.

Each participant in You Are Here is drawn to the project for different reasons.  Welker was inspired by the personal reflection of taking care of oneself.  “It’s easy to walk around with baggage, or to be constantly worried about the future.  It’s those little moments when you stop and stare and lose yourself that the art will succeed.”  Pereyma excitedly describes creating a series of placemats, which act as a placeholder and a marker for one’s place in that very moment of time.

You Are Here goes beyond just a moment in Dayton; it is meant to be a reflective celebration of Dayton’s history, present, and future.  While the project and its end result are yet to be finalized, unpredictability is a driving force in the planning process.  Welker will be content if the result of You Are Here brings a smile or a grateful reaction to the visitor.  Welker said, “We hope people will appreciate Dayton-ness and a larger cultural shift will happen towards appreciating what we have.”

Learn more about Dayton, Ohio: You Are Here and how you can participate by visiting  Urban Nights takes place on September 14, 2012.

Originally published in the May 29 edition of the Dayton City Paper

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