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Dayton’s Pulse: Reinvention Stories

April 4, 2013

Dayton has hit bottom. This perception, which was amplified by national media citing Dayton as one of the nation’s fastest-dying cities in America a few years back, conjures up an image of a ghost town. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  True, once an internationally significant destination for invention, industry and progressiveness, the loss of major companies, jobs and population have transformed Dayton into a very different place. However disheartening times have been, Dayton has never stopped churning with energy, transformation and reinvention.

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Kyle Wilkinson, Barbara, 2012

As evidence of Dayton’s vitality, a special project launched in January captures the city’s pulse. Local radio station WYSO 91.3 and filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar teamed-up to create the multi-platform media project Reinvention Stories, a series of audio stories and short films of Dayton and its residents. The project, instigated by WYSO’s general manager Neenah Ellis, is based on a series of questions: how does a city of inventors reinvent itself? How are individuals reinventing themselves? How are people dealing with the economic turmoil of recent years? How is Dayton doing?

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Shawndra Jones, Oronde Clark, 2012

Reichert, Bognar, and a crew of filmmakers and audio producers spent the summer of 2012 walking the streets of the city and its suburbs, including St. Anne’s Hill, Belmont, Clayton, Fairborn, Kettering, the Oregon District, Residence Park, South Park, Twin Towers, and Trotwood. Their encounters with residents culminated into interviews, photographs, and short films, some of which are now on WYSO and the interactive website

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Steven Bognar, LaToya (Residence Park), 2012

The project continues to grow, and this summer, photographs and video work will be on view at the Dayton Art Institute (DAI) in the upcoming exhibition Reinvention Portraits, organized by the Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC).  The Reinvention team captured thousands of images, and photographs by eight members of the team—Emily Evans, Megan Hague, Shawndra Jones, Kyle Wilkinson, Emily McCord, Liz Cambron, Reichert and Bognar—are represented in the exhibition.

Eva Buttacavoli, Executive Director of DVAC and the exhibition curator, selected just over a dozen color photographs—individuals, couples and families—and a video portrait of the streets of Dayton created by the Reinvention team. “The faces of Dayton come in every hue and texture,” writes Buttacavoli. “From the porches and sidewalks throughout the Gem City, these photographs capture a moment in time, one summer in our city.”

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Julia Reichert, Billie and granddaughter (South Park), 2012

Focusing on images that were visually dynamic and strong, Buttacavoli was interested in those in which no audio or film was needed to convey a story. “There are little things that you keep discovering,” she said. “Like in the image of the woman from Twin Towers; you feel like you know her,” referring to a portrait taken by Emily Evans at the site of a colorful, community-created mosaic mural. “I can imagine some of her story from the way she has her hand on the mural and the way the mural identifies her to a place and to the city.”

South Park resident and Reinvention participant Carol Coffey enjoyed being a part of the process. Originally approached by members of the Reinvention team while chatting with friends outside her house, Coffey was impressed by their relaxed, relatable approach. She never believed Dayton was dying. “Dayton goes up and down. We had all the factories, like NCR and the Dayton Press. Now all of that is gone, but I see pockets of things happening. Small businesses, like Olive and Ghostlight Coffee, are opening,” she said. “If Dayton was truly dying, then these things wouldn’t be here, they wouldn’t be supported. Dayton is still a destination.” Coffey’s story is a short film featured on and her portrait, which includes her Chihuahua Ernie, will be a part of the Reinvention exhibition.

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Emily Evans, Untitled (Twin Towers), 2012

From its beginning to the present, Reinvention Stories is about collaboration. Demonstrating the great power of investing in local resources and expertise, this project is one of many examples of the strength Dayton has in its partnerships. Even Coffey was struck by Dayton’s collective spirit, seen through the strong connections formed through Reinvention. “This project is about having a dream and pursuing it,” she said. The exhibition at the Dayton Art Institute is further proof of this character; Reinvention Portraits is the inaugural exhibition launching an ongoing collaboration between DVAC and DAI to present artists in the Dayton community in a dedicated gallery space.

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Julia Reichert, Carol Coffey and Ernie the Dog (South Park), 2012

Reinvention Stories is an ambitious multi-layered project; its short documentary films, interactive website (in which anyone can participate and tell their story), and audio features, is testimony to Dayton’s vibrancy and the diverse, active communities that are the fabric of the city. “We want to have you see Dayton in a different way, a new way,” said Reichert. “The project helps you see Dayton as one city while exploring different parts of it.”

Reinvention Stories is currently on the air Wednesdays mornings on 91.3 WYSO and online at and Reinvention Portraits will open at the Dayton Art Institute this June; learn more about the exhibition at or

This story was originally published in the Dayton City Paper, April 2, 2013.

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