Dayton’s Art Ball has been the swankiest night of the year for more than 60 years

Dayton’s glamorous night of tuxedos and gowns began in 1957

Dayton’s most glamorous night of the year, the Dayton Art Institute Art Ball, was supposed to be happening this weekend.

But the annual fund-raiser for the museum has been postponed, with no new date set, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Holiday Ball, as the elegant evening was called when it was first held at the art museum on Dec. 7, 1957, was originally organized by the Junior League of Dayton. The proceeds from the dinner dance were marked for the permanent purchasing funds of the museum.

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A newspaper story from the era heralding the upcoming ball painted a picture for guests who would be “dining in the galleries while surrounded by objects of art and paintings by the masters.”

An orchestra from Cincinnati was hired to perform in the sculpture court “where bronzes by Picasso, Renoir and Degas will add excitement.”

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The Junior League-organized balls continued into the 1960s. Guests stepped into an “oriental garden of blossoming cherry trees lit by hundreds of pink lights” in 1963. That ball, called the “Night of Seventh Happiness,” transformed the Italian Renaissance architecture with wisteria blossoms, paper kites and cedar sprays.

Women glided through the cloisters in colorful gowns while the men were dapper in formal wear.


“Getting dressed up is good for the spirit,” Elton McDonald told a reporter that night.

Getting dressed up was good for the museum as well. The Junior League’s efforts raised more than $30,000 during the years it hosted the ball, according to a 1964 Dayton Daily News story.

“We certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the Junior League for helping begin this tradition,” said Michael Roediger, director and CEO of the Dayton Art Institute.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

“This gala has become one of the best-known and longest-running fundraisers in the Dayton area. It’s brought many works of art to the museum and played a key role in supporting the museum and many of its programs.”

Some of the early gifts made possible by the fund include the acquisition of “Allegory of Summer and Winter” by Giovanni Battista Pittoni and etchings by Giorgio Morandi and Paul Klee.

In recent years, the funds have been earmarked for operating the historic building and conserving the artwork. In 2006 the proceeds were used for conservation of “Joy of the Waters,” a bronze statue given to the DAI in 1919 by Julia Shaw Carnell, the founder of the museum.

Since 1965 Art Ball has been organized by the DAI’s associate board made up of a group of community volunteers.

Each year, in keeping with tradition, the board chairs select a piece of art from the museum’s collection to inspire a theme for the ball.  This year, to mark the museum’s centennial, Art Ball chairs, Michelle Kay and Todd Crawford, chose ICON: Celebrating 100 years of the Dayton Art Institute as the theme.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

“Art Ball is a part of the cultural fabric that makes Dayton and the DAI special,” Roediger said. “Many know that Dayton is fortunate to have an art museum and collection that is recognized around the world. Friends of the museum attend Art Ball to help support the lasting legacy that the DAI and its many supporters have created.”

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