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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.

Dayton Asks For Help Designing A New Flag

The City of Dayton is asking for help designing a new flag to fly over the Gem City.

The flag redesign project started long before the Coronavirus outbreak shut down most of the Miami Valley, but it’s nearing a close now and the city is looking for feedback from the community on three prospective flag designs.

If you want to make a great flag, you might want to start by talking to Ted Kaye. He’s the Secretary of the North American Vexillological Association.

One of the perks of studying flags is that you get to tell people you’re a vexillogist.

“Vexillology is the study of flags,” Kaye says. “Vexillum being the Latin word for ‘flag,’ and ‘ology’ for ‘study of.’  And Vexillography is the discipline of designing flags.”

Kaye wrote the guidebook for flag design. It’s called “Good Flag, Bad Flag.” In it, he lays down the basic rules.

First, a flag must be simple and must have good symbolism. He says a child should be able to draw it from memory.

Then there are some no-nos. There shouldn’t be any words or seals, because those are hard to read flapping in the wind 50 feet above your head.

“The seal also represents the government,” Kaye says, “and the flag should represent the people.”

He points to Canada as a place that has a great flag because the maple leaf represents everyone in Canada, and that flag has become a source of pride for the people it represents. 

Kaye’s design rules have become quite popular, too. He was featured in a Ted Talk that was put together by podcaster Roman Mars—a Ted Talk that has reached over 4 million people.

“If you don’t see your city flag,” Mars says, “maybe it doesn’t exist. But maybe it does and it just sucks. And I dare you to join the effort to change that.”

Hundreds of cities have done flag redesigns since that call to action, and now Dayton is one of them.

Dayton’s current flag has the word “DAYTON” in all caps running down the left side. On the right, it has a big globe inside of a bicycle cog, and then there’s a Wright Brothers biplane right on top of the globe.

The flag is a muddled mess. So, the city put together a committee and put legislative aide Maggie Schaller in charge of drumming up submission. She received more than 300 new flag designs.

“It was so joyful to look at the different ways that people think about Dayton,” Schaller said. “Some people love the aviation. Some people love the gem, but overall, it was all people who really cared about the city of Dayton, people who really cared about what we’re trying to build here and what we are—which is this gritty, resilient, beautiful city.”

From those 300+ submissions, Schaller and the committee narrowed it down to the three they liked best, but this isn’t a winner-take-all situation. The city says it’s open to mixing ideas and designs. 

“What we want now is feedback on those three flags. We don’t want just straight voting because we want to know exactly what people are looking at. It’s not necessarily a contest. This is about what represents us,” Schaller says.

Dayton Graphic Designer Cecelia Freeman made one of the final three flags. Hers has a white wave running through it horizontally. Below it is green, above it is blue, and there are three stars of different sizes and shapes floating in the upper right-hand side.

“I did stars and, if you’ll notice, they’re above the lowest point of the wave that’s in there. So, it’s us rising from the hardship and all the things we’ve had to work through as a community. And we’ve come out soaring—we’re bright stars. We’re still shining, and we’re diverse, but we’re coming out together,” Freeman says.

With all the problems Dayton has faced in the last year, she says she wants a flag the city can rally around.

Freeman’s toughest competition may come from a fifth grader who attends Cleveland Elementary School. Elizabeth Adams’ design is green and blue with a gem right smack dab in the middle.

“I did the diamond to represent the Gem City,” Adams says. “The greens were for the trees, and the blues were for the parks.”

Adams says her art teacher, Mr. Watras, likes to get the students involved in a lot of art competitions, and she thinks “it would be incredible” for her flag to fly over Dayton.

Young people do have a history of making famous flags. Robert Heft was a high school student in Lancaster, Ohio, when he designed the 50 star American Flag in 1958.

In an interesting twist, Heft only got a B- on his art project, though his teacher changed the grade to an A after Dwight Eisenhower adopted Heft’s design for the American flag.

Regardless of what age you are, checking out the finalists and giving the city some feedback is good fun.

And with so many people being isolated right now, it’s one way we can all come together. 

Culture Couch is made possible by a generous grant from the Ohio Arts Council and is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.