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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Local Artists Address 'Redlining' At Dayton Metro Library

A portrait of Morris T. Howard painting in his studio. Morris is a Black man wearing a tan hat and a red apron, painting a Black man in a suit.
Bill Franz
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People in the Neighborhood
This portrait of Morris T. Howard painting in his studio was taken by Bill Franz. Both Howard and Franz have work on display at the Dayton Metro Library.

There is a lot of local art on display at the Downtown Dayton Metro Library. And it’s all connected to the “Undesign the Redline” exhibit, which shows how the process of “redlining” segregated Dayton.

In the 1930s, The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation made maps that labeled some neighborhoods safe for investment and others too risky. The ones deemed too risky were colored in red, but the residents were mostly Black.

Now, some Dayton artists are using their work to help address the lasting ramifications of redlining.

Bridges at the Dayton Metro Library
Jason Reynolds
Leesa Haapapuro is Dayton Metro Library's Artist in Residence.

BUILDING BRIDGES

Leesa Haapapuro is sewing drawings together on the first floor of the library.

“I’m sure somebody who has sewing skills would find this a breeze,” she says. “I’ve just been sewing for a little while now.”

But Leesa is gaining experience quickly. She has sewn hundreds of these panels together. Each one contains a drawing or painting that was made by a Daytonain. Some are by local artists, some are by children, some are by library-goers. There are drawings of fireworks and festivals, religious events and political protests, wildlife and rivers.

Leesa says she invites members of the community to “draw or write their ideas about what unites us.” Then, she sews them together, a couple dozen at a time in a straight line. Finally, she hangs these long stretches of art from the ceiling at both their top and bottom points, so they span the entire room, like giant paper bridges flowing through the room. In fact, her installation is called “Bridges.” She says the idea is to connect communities that have been separated by redlining.

“I was trying to get the feeling of bridges, of swooping through space. That way you can walk among them and look at the individual elements but also get the kind of feeling of movement when you walk in it,” she says. “And the more people contribute, the more interesting the installation becomes, and I love that you can see it from outside."

In addition to seeing it from outside, you can go into the library and add to the installation. There are blank panels laying out, as well as art supplies, so anyone can be a part of building these bridges.

And Haapapuro is just one of many artists with work on display in connection with the redline exhibit.

Yes, We Can by Andrea Walker Cummings
Courtesy of Andrea Walker Cummings
"Yes, We Can" by Andrea Walker Cummings is on display at the downtown library through September 25.

BREAKING BOUNDARIES

In the gallery on the second floor of the library, Andrea Walker-Cummings is about to give a tour to the League of Women Voters. She’s a member of the African American Visual Artists Guild, and she put the show together. It’s called Boundaries and Bridges.

“I just put out a call to our members,” she says.”All of us, because of our age, have probably lived through redlining at its height. So, we understand how it’s progressed through the years and how we’ve moved through the city.”

One of her favorite works in the show is a photograph by Horace Dozier Senior. It’s of a lion behind a fence.

“Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think that this fits the theme, but what I see when I look at that picture is a boundary. And we, as humans, are always erecting boundaries. Either out of a fear of the known or the unknown,” she says.

Andrea has a work of her own on display, too. Hers is a large piece made of hand embroiderer and appliqué. The image is of black ballerinas’ legs, and they’re wearing African print shoes.

“When I originally created that piece, it was a tribute to the years and years and years when the American ballet industry didn’t think that African-American bodies, feet, posture, or anything else fit their ideal of what classic ballet was. But it also symbolizes to me that our different art cultures among the races allow us to enjoy each other's cultures,” she says.

Friday Night at the Superette.jpg
Bill Franz
Friday Night at the Superette by Bill Franz

FOCUSING ON THE GEM CITY

If there’s one artist on display at the library that has really captured the cultures and faces of Dayton, it’s probably photographer Bill Franz.

In 2019, he set out to take photos in all of Dayton’s 66 neighborhoods. That was the year the city was hit by tornadoes and there was a mass shooting in the Oregon District.

When Franz saw strangers from different neighborhoods consoling each other after the shooting and helping each other cleanup after the tornado, he changed his plan.

“That spirit of the town coming together, it made me rethink the project. And I thought I don’t want a building or a park or something in my photos. I want the people,” he says.

Now, he has 66 portraits, one from each neighborhood, on display in the library’s Dayton Room. He says one of his favorites is of a Dayton cop.

“Dyan Thomas!” he says. “She’s a policewoman, rides a motorcycle, and showed me my favorite piece of police equipment. It’s a stuffed animal. She carries it in the saddlebags of her motorcycle, and if she’s at a traffic accident or a domestic dispute or anything with kids, if the kids are getting upset, the adults get upset. So, she hands the kids a stuffed animal, they settle down, the adults settle down, and everything moves on.”

Bill’s photography captures every neighborhood, and people of every race and color and creed. Which suggests maybe the effects of redlining can be undone after all, with a little work.

Undesign the Redline” and the art exhibits associated with it are on display at the downtown branch of the Dayton Metro Library through September 25. 

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Dyan Thomas
Bill Franz
A portrait of Police Officer Dyan Thomas by Bill Franz