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'Atlas Of Dayton' Exhibit Combines Art And Data To Map The City's Inequalities

WYSO/Leila Goldstein

A new exhibit on view at the Dayton Metro Library aims to visualize the disparities that divide many Dayton neighborhoods.

On display is a series of maps of the city’s neighborhoods. Each one starts with the same basic black and white print, but layered on top are colored fabrics and transparencies. The images outline areas with high poverty rates and highlight pockets of food insecurity.

Graphic designer and University of Dayton professor Misty Thomas-Trout created the exhibit, entitled Atlas of Dayton: A City in Progress, using data from the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission.

To learn more, WYSO’s Leila Goldstein spoke with the artist about her project.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Leila Goldstein: What inspired you to work on this project, to combine these ideas about equity with maps and cartography?  

Misty Thomas-Trout: I have a great love for maps. I myself am geographically challenged. I find it very difficult to read maps. They're extremely complex. They change. Even the neighborhood map that I designed likely will already be changing because maps are essentially extinct as soon as they're made, because our landscape changes every hour of the day.

There's something really poetic about the way maps historically define where we live and what we're doing. But they can also be interpreted in a lot of different ways by the person viewing them. I'm really drawn to that beautiful nature of them, when they're literal or when they're poetic. I'm kind of obsessed with it. 

Goldstein: Part of the project illustrates Dayton's income inequality, racial segregation, and access to resources. Why did you choose to focus on these issues? Why are they important to look at in Dayton now?  

Credit WYSO/Leila Goldstein
Colored fabrics and transparencies outline areas with high poverty rates and highlight pockets of food insecurity.

Thomas-Trout: I don't think that I chose the issues as much as they chose me, because this is something that America has faced in general. A lot of cities face racial segregation, income inequalities. It goes right back to redlining. There is a lot of injustice in how we've built our environment, our culture, our cities. As someone who lives in a neighborhood where I don't have the same access to great food, to good produce, I have to drive further to get to that outside of Dayton. It’s a topic that needs to be talked about a lot. It needs to be no longer hushed. It needs to remain transparent. It's of great interest to me. 

Goldstein: Since this data is already available online, how does having a visual exhibit at the library serve its own purpose?

Thomas-Trout: Exhibiting in a library is something I like to do more than galleries because I think it's more welcoming for the common person. Anyone feels welcome in the library. It doesn't matter where you come from, who you are, what you're doing, what you're wearing. You can interact with the work. Having it accessible visually, to touch, there's a palpability there. You get to spend time with it. To me, print matters.

Having the information travel from library branch to library branch not only celebrates our new libraries, where everything is free, it brings the information into all communities, makes it more accessible, and further disseminates it so everyone has a chance to view it. They can see where their neighborhood is and relate to it a little bit more.

Relatability is another important note. To get people to have civic pride, they need to feel like they can relate to the matter. And if I have enough visual information that moves them, inspires them, makes them feel like they understand, they've dealt with these issues, they've had the same experiences, no matter what it is, I think that they build a little more care and they want to get involved more. 

The maps will be on display at the Southeast Branch of the Dayton library beginning Saturday at 5pm, and the exhibit will tour other branches through June. Additional images from the exhibit can be viewed on the artist's website and more information about the data used in the project can be found here.

While working at the station Leila Goldstein has covered the economic effects of grocery cooperatives, police reform efforts in Dayton and the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic on hiring trends, telehealth and public parks. She also reported Trafficked, a four part series on misinformation and human trafficking in Ohio.