Dayton area artists reflect on the pandemic

The Contemporary Dayton showcases members and students.



Those who’ve been visiting The Contemporary Dayton since its move to the downtown Arcade know that exhibits have focused on individual artists.

The show that opened last weekend is different. It offers an opportunity to see a wide range of work from 21 professional artists and 12 art students– all living and working in Dayton and the surrounding area. All of this art is for sale with prices ranging from $40 to $8,000.

This is a new take on the member show, a decades-old tradition at the non-profit gallery formerly known as the Dayton Visual Arts Center. For the current show, organizer Cydnie King chose the theme “Waking Up,” then invited participation from a group of working artists she felt could best convey that concept. The students were recommended by faculty at the University of Dayton, Wright State University and the Columbus College of Art and Design.

The “waking up” refers to the idea of coming back to life after the pandemic. “It is mostly new work and some of it was made exclusively for this show,” explains King, who is also an artist. She first came to the gallery as a volunteer, then became an intern and now serves as the curatorial assistant.

The subject for the exhibit grew out of King’s own experiences living and working through the height of the pandemic. “I remember this odd feeling of optimism when the lockdown first started,” she explains in the gallery guide. “I kept thinking I’d get so much drawing done. I can deep clean the house. I have time to make more art. This is going to be great!”

By the end of the lockdown, she admits, she hadn’t made anything. “I spent that time at home with my 2-year-old in an isolated social bubble. I was nowhere near as productive as I wanted to be. I felt distracted, overwhelmed by the state of the world, guilty about my lack of productivity and anxious to get back to how things were,” she says. “As time pressed on, I decided to try to work through my creative slump instead of despairing and it was like waking up from a dream state. I wanted to make up for the time I lost and couldn’t get the ideas out of my head fast enough.”

She wondered if other artists were feeling the same. She decided to invite some of those gallery members she’d come to admire to create work based on what they were thinking and creating during the time when most of the country was on pause.

You’ll see the results in The Co’s three galleries. King is hoping visitors will leave with a sense of renewal and view the art as a way of turning something negative into something positive. “Art can provide escapism and give us a chance to interact with the world in another way,” she says. “Personally, art centers me, calms me.”

The pieces you’ll see range from paintings and prints to sculptures and video art.

Artists reflect

In an opening night artist talk, King asked panelists to share thoughts about the “Waking Up” theme and how COVID-19 had affected their art. Some said lockdown they’d had the opportunity to create new kinds of work, others said they’d used the time to work “larger” or “smaller.”

Wright State grad Mar Quintero contributed two white plaster sculptures to the show. One is a mold of a jug, one a mold of fabric. “When you sculpt with plaster you have to pour it into a mold, an empty space,” notes King. “This was their way of adapting to the empty space around them during the pandemic. A way to fill that space.”

Quintero views “waking up” as an expression of collective consciousness among all of the artists. “We all experienced the same thing,” Quintero said. “There’s a lot of color and movement and really intimate moments. I think it’s like a moment of all of us waking up together.”

The large assemblage in the main gallery was created by Zachary Armstrong and Tyler Macko. “It’s a jumbled collection of what we’re going through with COVID, a lot of random objects, " explains King. Look closely and you’ll see that many of the objects were created by the artists including an iron skillet that’s actually made of wood, drinking glasses that appear to be glass but were all cast in resin and a crab is made of encaustic, a wax medium.”

The two short videos currently at the Contemporary Dayton were created by artist Tess Cortes. One is titled “Still Life with Oranges” and one is “Still Life with Buckeyes.”

“These videos are part of a series I’ve been working on using items that have been passed down to me by my family,” Cortes explains. " I combine and arrange them with other items in my home or plants from my yard. I use video software to blend the videos and slowly change the still life arrangements over time. The transitions are subtle, and sometimes they happen so slowly you stopped paying attention but then notice something changed. I like this idea of fooling the eyes. In the context of the show’s pandemic theme, it made me think about how slow some of the days moved; time seemed to feel a little different when we stayed home all the time.”

In memoriam

The show is dedicated to two well-respected and recently deceased members of the Miami Valley art community — Raymond L. Must and Carol A. Nathanson. The Contemporary will recognize both of them on Friday, Aug. 19.

Eva Buttacavoli, executive director of The Co, says Ray Must’s life is woven into the fabric of art and culture in Dayton and beyond. “His is a story of an artist, an educator, a mentor and a leader,” she says. Must’s contributions date back to the late 1960s when he taught at the Dayton Art Institute, the new Wright State University and was one of the architects of the Dayton Visual Arts Center, now the Contemporary Dayton.

“Ray was consummate in all these realms but he will likely be remembered by most who knew him for his intellect, his insight and his kindness,” Buttacavoli adds.

Chief curator Michael Goodson says for hundreds and hundreds of students and colleagues over the last 40 years, Nathanson brought both the joy and gravity of the history of art to life and consciousness. “As a lecturer, she imparted all of this knowledge with passion but also with warmth.”

Photography winners included

Three of the photographs you’ll see on display are the winners of the The Mike Goheen Memorial Fund Award for Photography. They were selected by Tracy Longley-Cook, associate professor of photography at Wright State who chose to split the prize three ways, with one first place winner and two Honorable Mentions.

The 2022 award winners were Julie Renee Jones, first place, and Joel Whitaker and Shon Curtis, honorable mentions.

Meet the artists

The member artists whose work you’ll see include: Zachary Armstrong, Robert Blackstone, Tess Cortes, Shon Curtis, Andrew Dailey, John Dickinson, Horace Dozier, Sr., Jamaal Durr, Michael “Ace” Gummer, Darren Haper, Julie Renee Jones, Katherine Kadish, David Leach, Tyler Macko, Brian Mathus, Kate Santucci, Francis Schanberger, Suzanne Scherette King, Erin Smith Glenn, Kyle Thiele and Joel Whitaker.

The student artists include Veronica Bernacki, Kendall Brock, Cassie Crownover, Sharon Gallion, Trevor Montel, Claire Murphy, Kaylee Peters, Amalia Rose Petreman, Mar Quintero, Quan Thai, Megan Weeda and Jess Williams.


What: “Waking Up: The Contemporary Dayton Biennial Member and Student Invitational.”

Where: The Contemporary Dayton, 25 W. Fourth Street in the Arcade, Dayton

When: 11 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; First Fridays until 8 p.m.

Admission: Free

Related programming:

An event in memory of Raymond Must and Carol Nathanson will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19 at The Co. The public is welcome to attend.

To see the Artist Talk & Panel :

For more information: 937-224-3822 or

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