Putting Dayton on the map

How a concerted group effort helped local art programs, supporters earn three prestigious state awards

When the 2013 Ohio Governor’s Awards for the Arts were given out at the Arts Day Luncheon in Columbus on May 15, Daytonians had reason to be excited.

Three of the major awards presented at the Columbus Athenaeum by Senate President Keith Faber and Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder went to individuals and organizations from the Gem City. More than 800 gathered for the celebration.

  • The Arts Education Award was presented to Stivers School for the Arts.
  • The Arts Patron Award went to the late Dr. Benjamin and Marian Schuster.
  • Dave Melin, Dayton’s regional president of PNC Bank accepted the Business Support of the Arts Award for PNC Bank statewide.


At every mention of Dayton, dozens rose to cheer and applaud.

That spotlight on Dayton didn’t happened by chance. Behind-the-scenes was a well-oiled machine designed to ensure that the talents and dedication of local artists and arts organizations do not go unnoticed.

“Dayton has really had a great representation in the last four or five years,” said Julie Henehan, executive director of the Ohio Arts Council, which hosts the annual event along with the Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation. “There has also been a coalescence in Dayton in recent years around making sure that the community is aware of the deadlines, and along with that a really strong effort to make sure that the people representing the organizations get to Columbus for the event. “

Seeing the need

Much of the credit for this effort goes to Sharon Howard, a community activist first appointed to the board of the Ohio Arts Council by Governor Bob Taft in 2005. She most recently served as director of marketing communications for Dayton Development Coalition.

“When you first join a board, you sit back and listen and learn,” said Howard, who soon noticed that the conversation at the Ohio Arts Council meetings seemed to revolve around three cities — Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

“Not to say those cities aren’t deserving, but I felt that Dayton could definitely compete,” Howard said. “My role on the board is to advocate for the arts overall but also to advocate on behalf of our region.”

That’s exactly what Howard has been doing ever since. She began by trying to figure out why Dayton hadn’t gotten more recognition over the years.

“In the past, nominations for the annual arts awards were made catch-as-catch-can, often at the last minute in a haphazard way, and mostly by one individual,” she discovered. Howard determined to remedy that situation by turning the process into an organized community effort. She gathered together a group of arts-savvy volunteers who were in a position to evaluate and recommend the artists, arts patrons and organizations that had a good chance of winning the awards.

The process

Nominations for Ohio’s Governor’s Awards for the Arts are announced in the fall and accepted through mid-late October. There are six categories; this year 66 nominations were reviewed.

In order to simplify the process for both nominators and staff, no support materials are accepted. Instead, nominations require a narrative and five strong support letters. In November, members of the Awards Selection Committee meet to discuss the nominations and select the winners. The selection committee is made up of Ohio Arts Council board members and three individuals selected by Ohio Citizens for the Arts, including one former Governor’s Award winner.

Henahan says other Ohio cities approach the nomination process in a variety of ways.

“When there are communities who have many deserving organizations, it probably makes sense for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing,” she said.

How it works now

Linda Lombard, chairwoman of the Dayton Art Institute board of trustees, serves on the committee she labels “Sharon’s brainstorm.”

“There is nothing like the power of Groupthink,” said Lombard, who notes that the committee meetings over the years have been both interesting and fun. Her own responsibilities have ranged from writing nominations to serving as “reviewer/editor.”

“We want to be sure that every nomination tells the story in an interesting and attention-grabbing way,” Lombard explained.

One example of a committee strategy that paid off was this year’s nomination of PNC Bank.

“We could have chosen just to nominate PNC Dayton, but the committee made the decision to nominate the bank statewide,” Howard said. “It was a deliberate decision; we felt it would have greater impact on the judges if they saw PNC’s impact throughout the state.”

The bank’s Dave Melin said he felt humbled and proud to accept the award on behalf of his colleagues throughout Ohio, many of whom were present at the luncheon.

“Governor Kasich’s wife sat at our table and told me she hadn’t realized the impact PNC was having in the arts throughout the whole state,” he said. “It was really an honor for little old Dayton to get to accept this award for the entire state. And that was because the nomination was made by Michael Roediger (executive director of the Dayton Art Institute) and the local committee.”

Arnecia Patterson, who teaches English at the University of Dayton, has worked for a number of local arts organizations and served on various funding panels. She said Howard’s committee is a system that works.

Because there are no audio, visual or print work samples permitted at the Governor’s Awards selection table, she says, applications have to be well-prepared, tightly composed and strategically submitted in order to pique the interests of reviewers.

“Sharon has used her combined knowledge of our local arts community and the Ohio Arts Council as a springboard for the group to exert collective thought and effort to come up with nominations that warrant recognition at the state level,” Patterson said. “The concerted effort led by Sharon is, arguably, the only reason why a city the size of Dayton keeps raking in multiple awards.”

Getting to Columbus

Howard, who also encourages community folks to show up in Columbus to cheer the victors, said Dayton is fortunate to have community and corporate supporters who value the arts.

DP&L, for example, has been taking a bus full of community leaders to the Governor’s Awards for the Arts luncheon since DP&L received the Business Support of the Arts Governor’s Award in 2007.

The trip, said community outreach Manager Holly Wiggins, allows those on board to talk with many of the organizations they support and also allows them to get to know each other. Wiggins said it’s also an opportunity for some of these organizations to meet with area and state elected officials in Columbus before the luncheon.

“The large contingent also draws the attention of officials statewide to take note that Dayton has a strong arts community,” she said.

Howard says the moral of the story is that a community with a plan can make a difference.

“You have to be strategic, you have to be patient,” she insists. “We nominate a lot of people and they don’t all win, sometimes it takes a few years. The reward is when we go to Columbus on Arts Day and we are able to introduce the special artists, patrons and businesses who are the best in our community to all of Ohio!”

Concludes Howard: “It’s important to keep sending the message to Columbus that when it comes to the arts, Dayton matters!”

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