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A Catalyst of Art and Community: The Dayton Visual Arts Center Celebrates 20 Years of REACH

February 3, 2013

“We represent Dayton arts,” said Eva Buttacavoli, Executive Director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center.  “We collaborate, which is key…and together, as a group, we have an opportunity to make a big statement about how Dayton has changed over 20 years and how the arts spark a dialogue about those changes.”  The Dayton Visual Arts Center, or DVAC, has been a landmark arts organization for over two decades.  With a mission to present “art for the community and a community for artists,” DVAC strives to represent the diversity of artists that comprise the region’s creative culture.

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Through February 22nd, DVAC is home to In the Spirit of Celebration: The REACH 20th Anniversary Retrospective, an exhibition featuring several large-scale, multimedia works created through the annual REACH Across Dayton symposium. REACH, an acronym for Realizing Ethnic Awareness and Cultural Heritage, is a series of events for the public, scholars, professionals, and students, to deepen the discourse sorrounding diversity in our community.   REACH was founded by Tess Little, a faculty member at Sinclair, who recognized the importance of promoting “cross-cultural awareness and knowledge through the arts and humanities.”  Registration for the conference has doubled since it’s founding in 1993, demonstrating the relevance of the topic over the past twenty years through its exhibitions, workshops, lectures, and interactive activities between DVAC, Sinclair Community College, and EboNia Gallery.

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“Art can be the conduit for understanding, discussion, and recognizing the similarities and differences we share,” said Buttacavoli.  Hundreds of artists have been featured in REACH’s history.  In the Spirit of Celebration will feature a selection of these artworks, including the 1995 series of 88 boxes created by community members through workshops led by renowned Dayton artist Willis “Bing” Davis. The memory box by Davis, along with Little, are included in the exhibition and demonstrate the rich visual translation of personal narrative into a three-dimensional collage.

In 2005 and 2006, REACH art interns created The Many Faces of Dayton, a collective portrait of over 3,850 faces, arranged in a grid that stretches from floor to ceiling and the entire length of the DVAC gallery. “This is a mirror of the community, captured in that moment in time,” said Buttacavoli. “These faces reflect the diverse community of Dayton.” In addition to many other objects on view, a performance by Gilda Edwards titled Come to the Table, originally performed in 2006, will be reenacted at the exhibition’s closing reception on February 21. The piece features a long table with place settings for a large family-style communal meal, to honor the ritual of breaking bread.  Anyone can sit, share stories, “break bread,” and share the experience of being together.

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Since it’s founding over twenty years ago, DVAC has fostered this community spirit, encouraging new ideas and support artists at all stages of their careers.  “The maker is in the equation at DVAC,” said Buttacavoli.  “We are about the drive of the maker, the artist.  It is an artist-centric space, where networking, learning how to talk about your work, how to document it, and more, can happen,” she said.  “There is no preciousness, no falseness, no edifice.  Conversations happen between artists on a regular basis…like two painters running into each other and having a conversation about techniques on how to depict the weight of a stone.”

The menu of programs, opportunities, and exhibitions is robust, with the question “what can we feed them to be successful as artists?” continually asked.  “DVAC can be the organization right there to help artists take risk, and go through a new experience together, so the artist is not alone.”  One such example is an artist who recently admitted to Buttacavoli that DVAC had changed his life. In the beginning stages of his creative career, DVAC included his work in exhibitions, connected him with other artists, and is helping him talk confidently about his work outside of the studio.

The Dayton Visual Arts Center is a true asset to the region for so many, with In the Spirit of Celebration a culmination of their art and community ideals.  “As varied as the art representing two decades will no doubt be, we believe that there is one central idea that propels all of it as relevant for today–that sharing cultures and heritage has deep intrinsic value to shaping our community, and the what unites us all is greater than that which divides,” said Buttacavoli.  Creativity, diversity, and a place for everyone at the table are the reasons why DVAC and REACH are still going strong and making an impact on our community.

The exhibition In the Spirit of Celebration: The REACH 20th Anniversary Retrospective is on view at DVAC from January 15 – February 22, 2013 at the Dayton Visual Arts Center, 118 North Jefferson Street, with a closing reception on February 21 from 5 – 7 pm.  The REACH Conference will take place on February 22 at Sinclair Community College.  Learn more at http://www.daytonvisualarts.org or http://www.sinclair.edu.

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