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Why this woman wants part of East Dayton branded to reflect one of its biggest strengths

Jes McMillan is trying to connect the dots that make up the art community on Dayton’s east side, and she says it is about more than just art.

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The founder of the nonprofit Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton as well as Jes McMillan Mosaics is the chef architect of a grassroots effort that would see a swath of Dayton bordered by E. Monument Avenue, N. Findlay St., Xenia Avenue, and Wayne Avenue and Webster Street officially deemed the East Dayton Arts District.

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“It is creating an umbrella of the art that is already there,” McMillan, an humanitarian artist,  said. “All of this (art) is happening in east Dayton.  How do we put the name out so we can get longer term support?” 

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McMillan owns and manages Crane Studio Market, a relatively new space that holds 14 independent galleries and shops at 221 Crane Street, also the home of Mike’s Bike Park. 

WHY AN EAST DAYTON ARTS DISTRICT? 

It was there at a show by Mikee Huber, an artist with a studio inside of Crane Market, that McMillan said it dawned on her how little people outside of Dayton’s art scene know about the rich collection of art experiences found in east Dayton. 

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Through her day job, Huber has connections to many people who work at or around Wright Patterson Air Force Base. 

McMillan said that most of the people at Huber’s show had no idea about the diversity of art in Dayton until attending the show. She said the east side is starting to boom and the word needs to get out about the art that can be found there. 

“Dayton is an amazing city. We have so many artists here,” she said. “We need the suburbs to know what’s going on here.” 

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The East Dayton Arts District includes Color of Energy Gallery, Missing Peace Art Space, Stivers School for the Arts, High Street Gallery, Crane Studios Market, TL Brown Photography, LLC, city wide studios, Gem City Catfe, Yellow Cab Tavern, Hamilton Dixon’s studio, Dayton Society of Artists, Proto BuildBar, Marsha Pippenger’s gallery and the Front Street Building and the Davis-Linden Building, both of which include numerous art studios and creative spaces.

Organizers are working on the project with the city of Dayton officials. 

Last month, they were given the green light to paint a mural with the words “East Dayton Arts District” across the Keowee and First Street train overpass. 

Fundraising efforts are underway for the project expected to be complete in June. 

A POINT OF PRIDE

McMillan said she hopes that the designation helps build pride in east Dayton as it fights to rebound from financial downturns and against the the opioid crisis that has impacted many lives.

McMillan knows the neighborhood’s struggle intimately. 

Raised in Dayton and several local suburbs, her mother, CarolAnn McMillan, died of a drug overdose at age 34. 

CarolAnn McMillan gave birth to her daughter at age 14 and, in the ’90s developed a drug problem after breaking her leg. 

“I am coming from the streets that I am serving,” McMillan, who is now 35, said. “I am them, they are me.”

East Dayton Arts District is just one of her ideas for east Dayton. 

The graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh plans to present her idea for a opioid memorial at this year’s UpDayton Summit, set for 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. April 26 at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North.  

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The memorial could help  the Dayton area be the “capital of healing” instead of the “overdose capital of America,” as it was dubbed by NBC News and others, McMillan said. 

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Though her work including what she has done with Mosaic Institute — an organization located inside of Cranes Market that offers free mosaic instruction — McMillan has done mosaics with a people ranging from Miamisburg students to inmates to senior citizens to the differently-abled. 

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“It really showed me that art has the power to transcend the powers of division,” she said. “Everybody can sit down at the table for collaborative creativity.” 

Dayton raised artist Jes McMillan is in the process of establishing the East Dayton Arts District. The mosaic artists has done work with a variety of people. (Source: Jes McMillan)

The East Dayton Arts District is not exactly a new idea, but it is an idea for which time has come. 

“It will recognize both new artists and those long established,” she said. 

“There are so many of us that love this city. We are young and we are positive and we are progressive,” she said. “It also honors the groundwork laid.” 

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