Jes McMillan wants to bring the community together with art

Jes McMillan believes that art is an expression of the human experience.

McMillan, the founder of the Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton, is the force behind a variety of public art throughout the Miami Valley.

"Engaging in the arts enriches our lives making us happier people," our Daytonian of the Week said. "Engaging in the arts brings us together."

Here’s why, in her own words, McMillan believes in the power of art.

When did you found the Mosaic Institute of Dayton and what is the organization’s mission? 

After serving Dayton through the K12 Gallery for eight years leading large scale collaborative art, I moved to Miamisburg and founded the Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton in April of 2015. Our mission is to Inspire, Empower and Unify the community through art.

What projects has the institute been part of? 

In Miamisburg, we donated glass mosaic murals created by community to Club Impact youth center and The American Legion. We won the Dayton Foundation's Share to Give Challenge and created a knitted/crocheted yarn mosaic with seniors.

We donated three painted murals to the city, The Lady Viking mural, Church's Welcome to Burg mural and the 600-foot long community collaborative Mosaic mural on the levee, which put Miamisburg Parks & Recreation in the semi-finals for the Governors award.

We created a six-piece (six sidewalk blocks) landmark themed mosaic walking tour. We installed a mosaic game board including a 29-foot hopscotch created by over 80 seventh-graders, in a neighborhood with no public parks (Kettering).

We moved to Dayton and independently raised the funds to spend two weeks in a lift painting “The Art Bird” mural on the Keowee and First Street train overpass.

We created two large glass mosaics with inmates in the STOP program and Monday Correctional Facility. We won the UpDayton Summit X and are working with CultureWorks and MetroParks to build “The Opioid Memorial,” a physical representation of our journey to become the Capitol of Healing.

This year, we won the Downtown Dayton Partnership's Grant for Art In The City and led hundreds of Daytonians in the creation of a 12-foot wide porcelain mosaic 'Unity Gem' that will be installed in the sidewalk outside the entrance to the Dayton Arcade. And on August 4th we were called by The Contemporary Dayton to design, build, and lead the creation of a memorial to honor the victims, during the Gem City Shine event.

What other organizations/businesses are you involved in? 

My partner Kate and I opened tend&flourish on Brown Street in Dayton's University Park neighborhood 13 months ago. She operates her business, The Skin Studio, and I, The Mosaic Institute, inside tend&flourish. We provide space for several other women-owned businesses and sell locally handcrafted items and art.

I am the Chapter Captain of Artists United Dayton. We are part of a national organization dedicated to building a network directory of and for ALL Dayton Artists. To unify and connect; to collaborate, share and grow. Part of our mission is to map, develop and unify the Dayton Arts Districts and to promote our Dayton Arts experience to surrounding communities.

Why is art important for communities? 

Our human experience is the strongest unifier, especially in response to a major disruption. The arts are an expression of that human experience. The arts celebrate, communicate, record, remember, cry out, challenge, heal and help us transcend. Engaging in the arts enriches our lives, making us happier people. Engaging in the arts brings us together. Happy togetherness helps foster a strong and unified community and as we all know, a strong and unified community can weather any storm.

The Mosaic Institute has created a memorial to the Oregon District shooting called “9 Doves.” How has the community been involved in its creation? Why is this important? 

Most of our mosaics are community collaborative art pieces. This was the first time we asked participants to take the tile and write a message on it before placing it into the mosaic. Where before hundreds of tiles would be arranged, this time, each became a sacred space for words and hundreds of messages to 9 murdered Daytonians.

The memorial is important because it was an immediate response, by community, for community, to provide a physical outlet and safe space for some of our pain. It became a way to connect to the victims, their families and friends and a way to connect to each other. We created something beautiful together out of the pieces of our grief to honor those we lost and take steps toward healing. On behalf of Team Mosaic, thank you and we love you.

What does Dayton Strong mean to you? 

Dayton strong means that in every tragedy, in every challenge and hardship, in every dark day WE face, WE do it together! We work to give each other not only the strength to carry on but the courage and fortitude to build a better tomorrow. We show up. We stand up. We rise together. Dayton Strong is resilience and hope.

If there was one work of art anywhere in the world you could see, what would it be and why? 

I would see the mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. They are breathtaking Christian relics and one cannot possibly see all the tiny detail and symbols hidden in mosaics from pictures. The people worshiped these mosaics as if they were God. With religious revivalism, it is a miracle that they were not destroyed several times but instead were covered up and preserved.

What would your perfect day in Dayton be? 

My perfect day in Dayton would start out with a jog at Deeds Point dog park with Kate and our pups, followed by a delicious breakfast at The Blueberry Cafe. Then we would get in a lift together and paint a beautiful mural until lunchtime at Lily's. I love the grilled cheese of the day! Next, it's off to find treasures at the Valley Thrift. Then we would get massages at tend&flourish and continue to the best happy hour in town at my favorite bar, The Trolley Stop. Then Kate would wear the most beautiful black dress to dinner with me at one of our favorite lesbian owned restaurants, The Meadowlark. Next we would catch some tunes and relax with the pups at The Levitt Pavilion before dancing the night away at The Silent Disco. And then I would sleep for the next two days.

What do you do for fun? 

I love to shoot pool. I love to watch football. And I LOVE to take our dogs for rides in my pickup truck.

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you make happen for Dayton? 

If I could wave a magic wand over Dayton I would give every Daytonian the ability to look past physical appearance and see the true soul or essence of who a person is with compassion. We would see the real truth in our leaders and in each other, finally able to transcend the barriers of division. Then I think we would be truly unified in all our efforts for progress and peace.

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