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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.

A New Name Only The First Step In DVAC's Rebranding To Become The Contemporary

exterior of The Conteporary in downtown Dayton
George Drake Jr.
A new sign identifying DVAC as The Contemporary is just the first step in the rebranding process.

After almost 30 years, The Dayton Visual Arts Center, DVAC, is making the bold and possibly risky move of changing its name to become, simply, The Contemporary. Its mission will mostly remain the same, but with the name change and a potential move to a bigger location in the works, it aims to do more  - both locally and nationally.

On the front desk inside The Contemporary there are still pamphlets with the sleek DVAC logo in clear acrylic holders, the decal on the front door has been changed, and the sign out front has been taken down and one with the new logo has been put up. The Contemporary’s executive director, Eva Buttacavoli says it shows the organization is going strong.

“It does have a life. It has a next phase. And, you know, it should! That’s our responsibility to the community.”

The Dayton Visual Arts Center was established in 1991 as an organization that didn’t collect artwork like museums, but still presented art to the community. It also helped Dayton artists themselves through exhibitions, education programs, and professional development workshops. Or, as they put it in their mission statement, “Art for the community, and a community for artists.”

With the rebranding, that mission will stay pretty much the same.

“So, I would say instead of it changing, it’s evolving," says Eva. "And what it’s evolving to is, we are claiming a promise to the community that we will be the ones that will be presenting the most current ideas and concepts that are happening in Contemporary Art -- throughout the world, really.”

Why a rebranding? First, they want to be able to show more artists, and second, in order to do that, they need a bigger exhibition space.

“We have the want, but we don’t have the space and we don’t have the funds. So, the catalyst was, ‘Let’s grow. Let’s expand.’”

Changing the name was the first step in that process. But, since they had a tight budget, they couldn’t spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to hire a firm to do research into whether it was a good idea or not. Along with the volunteer help of the Lunne Marketing Group, they did what research they could on their own, and, in the end, they just went for it because they believed it was a good idea. Especially Eva.

“I’ll tell you the big secret is I actually bought the domain name last year!”

To get to the conclusions they did, The Contemporary brought together a panel of artists, thinkers, organizational heads, and funders to weigh the options over the course of six meetings.

“Well, we argued a lot, but I think that was a good thing,” says Dayton artist Terry Welker. He was on the panel. “I think I was sort of down the middle. I will say there was a certain amount of skepticism. But, I’m also open minded to know like, ‘Oh, okay. Maybe this will lead some place. So, I’m… I feel pretty positive about it now.”

Terry’s been with the organization for about 20 years, and was on the board of directors at one time, so he’s seen DVAC change and move to different locations before -- but he says, this rebranding is different. He says the main concern is losing the familiarity that DVAC has cultivated over the years.

“There’s all kinds of things you can try on," says Terry. "But it doesn’t take long for them to get dismissed. You know, because once we try it…because you have to test every idea, and things that sound interesting at first when you start throwing darts at it… well, they usually go away pretty quickly.”

“I know that there are people that are unhappy about the name change," says Eva. "I don’t know who they are, but it’s just the name of the game in this.”

With a new name in place, next steps for The Contemporary include looking at options for a larger gallery space.
Credit George Drake Jr. / WYSO
With a new name in place, next steps for The Contemporary include looking at options for a larger gallery space.

Eva’s already received praise from other contemporary art museums and institutes in the country for taking the leap of rebranding, but has until the spring to show those that are still on the fence how it’ll help elevate the organization. She knows it’s a double edged sword.

“The challenge about that is: Oh my God, I’m going to get people telling me how much they don’t like it [laughes] for six months or more.”

The road ahead is paved with meetings with donors, artists, organizations, and community leaders about the change, dealing with the numerous developers courting The Contemporary for their potential move to a bigger space, and filing the necessary paperwork to retain their 501 (c)(3) status. But, Eva says they’re taking it one step at a time.

“So, we’re not afraid of it. We’re small and nimble. We’re practicing answering the phone, ‘The Contemporary, Dayton,’ that’s our issue of the day.”