Front Street artists have big plans to bring art experience outdoors

Credit: Libby Ballengee

Credit: Libby Ballengee

Artists find creative ways to offer walk-by or drive-by art installations

The coronavirus pandemic has hit arts communities around the nation particularly hard. In Dayton, the artists at Front Street Art Studios and Galleries, have decided to double down in response, and get more creative than ever.

Front Street is one of the largest communities of artists and small business owners in the Miami Valley, housing a mix of painters, jewelers, sculptors, curators, photographers, mixed media artists, seamstresses, and printers. The three large red buildings that create the Front Street campus sit at East 2nd and Dutoit streets.


Before the pandemic, Front Street was a destination on First Fridays, Second Look Saturdays as well as Third Sundays during the warmer months. Patrons filled the studios and galleries to see demonstrations, check out new exhibits, shop and socialize with friends. Now, with gatherings currently limited, the community is dreaming of new ways to entertain, inspire and serve the Dayton community.

Owners Richard and Carol Lundin viewed this situation as an opportunity to do more art outdoors and online, support the community, and pursue ideas that had once been on the back burner.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed


“We have planned an art corridor along our outdoor property on Dutoit Street (cross street is 2nd Street) for drive-by and walk-by viewing,” Carol Lundin explained. To get a jump start that idea, they put their famous  DAYTONWOOD back up, and it can be viewed off East 3rd Street as you drive into the arts community.

Sculptures will be placed in their green space, and additional sculptures have been commissioned. Artists Julie Riley and Mike Elsass are among the artists contributing to the sculpture garden, with their butterfly sculptures that double as seating.

Most recently, the Lundins put a shipping container along the Dutoit and 2nd Street corridor and asked artists Nicholaus Arnold and Ashley Jonas of the Blue House Gallery and University of Dayton to work their magic with it over the next couple of weeks.

Front Street artist Samantha Mang helps paint the butterfly sculptures

Credit: Libby Ballengee

Credit: Libby Ballengee


The plan for the 20-foot shipping container is to create a large-scale art experience. It’s an idea Richard had for awhile, but it was never the right time, until now. “We envision that once this project is complete, we will load up the container and take it around the country,” his wife Carol explained. “Dayton art goes national.”

It’s this shared goal of promoting Dayton artists on a national level, and elevating artists that live here that have brought Nicholaus and Ashley to work with the Lundins time and again. This newest shipping container gallery project allows patrons to experience visual art without being in close proximity to one another.

“We had to adapt the art viewing experience to something a little more functional in the era of social distancing,” Arnold explained. Adapting includes a one-way flow, where people enter one side of the container and go out the other end. There will be signage to remind patrons to keep a 6-foot distance.

Credit: Libby Ballengee

Credit: Libby Ballengee

The first exhibition in the shipping container will show Arnold’s experimental work capturing the current feelings and frustrations during the coronavirus pandemic. After that exhibit, he’ll craft a more curated experience. Overall, he plans to show straightforward pieces that don’t require an intense level of installation. The opening date has not been determined.

Arnold is not the only artist who has been having fun with shipping containers. Mike Elsass, a famous fixture in the Front Street community, is also experimenting with working outdoors. He gave us a peek into his private world behind the buildings and gates, where he and Julie Riley have been using the containers as a new creative space, as well as a private retreat.

Mike Elsass

Credit: Libby Ballengee

Credit: Libby Ballengee

Indoors, Elsass and his team are hard at work on large-scale installation pieces that are destined for lobbies of banks in New York City and other buildings across the country. Fortunately, he hasn’t experienced a slow down in sales on the corporate side at all.

Of course his gallery spaces inside Front Street aren’t getting the foot traffic they normally do, so he’s been using galleries as additional studio space. The additional elbow room allows him to spread out his paintings, which are created on weathered steel and use multiple coats of paint to create his signature texture and style. “We’re doubling down and creating even more art here,” Elsass said.

Credit: Libby Ballengee

Credit: Libby Ballengee


For other Front Street artists who aren't as established as Elsass, the Lundins are supporting them by creating an updated website with online galleries where they can sell their work,, at no charge to the artists. "Many of our galleries are hosting virtual gallery tours now," Carol said. They're also participating in the Downtown Dayton Partnership's virtual First Fridays.

>> First Friday invites you to explore downtown Dayton while at home

When this year's Wright State 2020 ArtsGala had to cancel and become an online event, the Lundins offered to host and sell the student winners' work, which would normally be sold at a silent auction during the in-person event. To view the two student pieces, "A Clearing Ahead" by William Worley and "Mist Bowl" by Eric Denlinger, click here.

Patrons can purchase “Mist Bowl” by Eric Denlinger, left, and “A Clearing Ahead” by William Worley to help support Wright State fine and performing arts students through ArtsUNgala.

Credit: Erin Pence

Credit: Erin Pence

"We've always worked closely with Wright State University's College of Liberal Arts," Carol Lundin explained. Beginning this fall, Front Street will provide space and house, which is a collaborative exhibition, workshop, educational and entrepreneurial space that will be shared by the fine art departments of local universities. This project, which is led by Linda Caron and Glen Cebulash from WSU, is intended to facilitate collaboration among the institutions and with the community.

>> Wright State’s ArtsUNgala fundraiser a success, organizers say

The Lundins have additionally offered gratis space to Think TV, to continue filming The Art Show, a program dedicated to the arts happening in Southwest Ohio. The Art Show will film at Front Street beginning end of summer and into early fall.

As for in person events, the Lundins say those may not restart until August. Like many other organizations, they are taking a wait-and-see approach to ensure the safety of their artists and patrons. Despite the uncertainty the coronavirus has presented, one thing is for certain: creativity is always on tap at Front Street.

Krysten Smith, one of the managers at the Front Street buildings, says “eclectic” is the watchword at the buildings’ community of artists and mechanics. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

To learn more about the art and artists at Front Street, visit:

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