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Culture Works to celebrate 50th anniversary, new year of supporting local arts

A blue sky can be seen through the many windows and metal support beams of a large dome.
Jerry Kenney
Culture Works will celebrate the start of its 50th anniversary year with a New Year's Eve party at the Dayton Arcade.

Culture Works is celebrating its 50th anniversary supporting arts efforts in Southwest Ohio. Curtis Bowman is the organization's director of engagement and tells WYSO how the mission has changed over the past 50 years and what’s ahead in 2024.

Curtis Bowman: Our mission is relatively new, in terms of 1994 is new. But in 1974, when Cultural Works was founded, it was called the Performing Arts Fund, and it was only to raise money for the ballet, the opera and the symphony.

But then its mission was expanded. It became Arts Dayton and it merged with the Miami Valley Arts Alliance, and took on the additional mission of a local arts agency. 

So, now we raise money like a united arts fund through workplace giving campaigns and public events. And that money is granted out to community arts organizations. Last year we gave over $250,000 to 10 local arts agencies through money that we raised.

In addition, we are the local arts agency, which means we are the designated agent for this region for the arts, which means we can secure money through the National Endowment for the Arts, for regranting, and Cultural Works does a lot in fostering community arts programs, reaching out to communities about what they need. 

Right now, we have another National Endowment for the Arts grant for creative placemaking that is happening in the Edgemont Solar Garden. This final project will be installed in April, but it's been two years in the making. We trained the artists, the artists went out into the community and interviewed community members about what did they want to see in their community and how could it articulate the identity of the community, and then they came up with a project, presented it to the community, a couple of different iterations, and the community voted on it.

Culture Works (is) more than just raising money. It's about fostering the arts, looking at the arts as a as an ecosystem that supports the economy and how do we partner with businesses to make the arts a better driver of the economy. There's a lot happening here.

Jerry Kenney: And so, with 50 years down, what's ahead for culture works?

Bowman: Culture Works is involved with the city and the county, and planning some future developments. There's lots of programs in the works. There's one I'm really excited about, funded by PNC called the Onyx Program, which is for emerging BIPOC artists, and that one is supposed to kick off in 2024. And then we have an Artist’s Opportunity Grant coming up again in the fall, and I'm really excited about that one because we just finished the cycle, and they haven't announced who got the Artist Opportunity Grants for this next coming year, but an artist that I know, a bunch of artists that I know, but a particular artist I know is just wrapping up her project from last year's Artist Opportunity Grant.

And so, we've got art happening in the community that was funded last year and the projects being started from the people who are getting funded this year, and people who are working on their grant projects for next year. So that's really exciting and we couldn't do that without Karen Maner. She's our grant making officer, and she is amazing. I don't know how she juggles all the stuff she juggles, but she keeps all the grants rolling through here, and she knows all the artists, and she's looked at all their applications and she offers all kinds of trainings to help with the budget, and how do you ask for money and what details are people going to want to know. She's awesome.

Kenney: And then what is up on the immediate horizon?

Bowman: Culture Works is having a fundraiser for New Year's Eve. We're having a party at the (Dayton) Arcade to kick off our 50th anniversary year, and it's the first ever New Year's Eve event in the Arcade. So, it's really exciting and tickets are for sale now at www.cultureworks.org. I'm going to be there, and I have some magical sneakers I'm going to be wearing because it's artful glamor. So, it's dress up, it's a party but, you know, it's dress up in an artful sort of way. So, I'm really excited about my shoes.

And then in January, we will be announcing the results of the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study to study that we invest in. Culture Works, raises the money and pays for our region to be surveyed, and we actually conduct the surveys with partners in the community on how the arts drive the economy. And the Americans for the Arts assimilates that information and gives us a report on what exactly the arts did, how many people stayed in the hotels, how many people ate in a restaurant, how many people paid for parking, how many people hired a babysitter — what exactly do the arts drive forward?

And then we can present that information to our arts organizations and artists in the community, and they use it in grant applications. We present that information to businesses, and they use it to decide what to invest in — the hospitality sector. How do restaurants know how busy are we going to be? How many people do we have to have on when the Schuster Center has something happening? This information is vital and it's something that Culture Works does because it's part of our mission to provide that information to the community.

Kenney: Curtis Bowman is director of engagement for Culture Works. Congratulations on 50 years of service and good luck with the next 50.

Bowman: Thank you, Jerry. Thank you for the time, really appreciate it.


Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.