The last time a cultural plan was created for Dayton, the year was 1992.
That process, dubbed “Innovation,” resulted in the construction of the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center and the merging of local arts organizations into a new organization called Culture Works.
This time around, the process is called “Culture Connects 20/20.” Organized by Culture Works, the goal is to come up with a new plan that goes beyond municipal boundaries.
To solicit input from the community, Culture Works hosted two brainstorming sessions last week — one at Aullwood Audubon Farm on Wednesday and another at the Springfield Museum of Art on Thursday. More than 100 people attended these sessions.
The community meetings were facilitated by Marc Goldring of WolfBrown consultants, and researchers Jane Dockery of Wright State University and Richard Stock of the University of Dayton.
Those who attended ranged from board and staff members of local arts organizations to elected officials, artists and business and community leaders. The goal of these sessions was to learn what was important to each person, what could be done better, and what they would like to see added to the current arts mix.
Lynn Hanson, vice president of collections & research for the Dayton Society of Natural History, said this process can help get regional or county institutions collaborating to build on successes and tackle challenges.
“For example, if Clark County has a program that is working particularly well to bring the arts to ethnic groups, then Montgomery County could utilize the lessons learned as a model for developing something similar for their own community,” she said.
Judy Mott of Butler Twp., who retired two years ago as executive director of Montgomery County Arts & Cultural District, said “arts and culture play a very significant role in downtown stabilization, cultural diversity, education and economic development.”
Ann Fortescue, executive director of the Springfield Museum of Art, said attendees at the meeting in Springfield proved that arts can be a rallying point in the region — Columbus, Dayton, Tipp City, Troy, Yellow Springs, Fairborn, South Charleston, South Vienna, Urbana, and Springfield were all represented.
Fortescue said she was struck by two common threads among all of the group discussions — “the need for data to document the value of arts and culture, and the need for arts education for all children as a foundation of understanding the benefits of the arts as adults and as experiences that will make them successful adults.”
Martine Meredith Collier, president and CEO of Culture Works, said she doesn’t expect to see bricks-and-mortar coming out of this year’s process, but said there was a lot of discussion about the need for a dedicated revenue source. One possibility that has proven successful in other communities is a tax that would support arts/cultural funding.
Collier said when Cleveland did a cultural plan 10 years ago, a cigarette tax made it on the ballot. In 2006, voters in Cuyahoga County approved a 10-year tax on cigarettes to support arts and culture organizations. Denver also has a tax that helps support arts, science and cultural initiatives.
What is very clear, said Collier, is that people value the cultural vitality that sets this community apart and want it to be there for the next generation.
“There was a sense that it may be in danger and we need to think thoughtfully about how to sustain it,” she said. “We’ve already lost Cityfolk and Rhythm-In-Shoes. One thing I’ve learned about Dayton — when people in this community make up their minds to do something, they do it!”