Libby Ballengee has a passion for Dayton.
When the 2008 recession hit our Daytonian of the Week said she felt compelled to step up and help her beloved arts community.
Since then she’s been a non-stop force in the Gem City, shining a light on all there is to be proud of.
Among the talents Ballengee is known for is co-hosting the Gem City Podcast, blogging for the Dayton Music Insider and founding Venus Child Productions to bring entertainment to the community.
She tells us about herself and why she is an ardent supporter of the community.
You seem to have your fingers in many pies throughout the city. What are you involved in, and how did you get to this point in your career?
That’s true, I’ve been involved with a lot of local projects and non-profits. When I reflect on what has motivated me, I think it comes from my particular life experience. I’m a naturally enthusiastic person, that’s for sure, but I also have an appreciation for Dayton specifically.
Both sides of my family moved here from West Virginia seeking a way out of the coal mines. To this day, the only entertainment or dining of any kind in their hometown is Dairy Queen. From their perspective, Dayton was a cosmopolitan city that offered culture they could have only imagined.
My mother took me to see the Dayton Ballet when I was 4 years old. I remember the Rike’s windows and tall buildings. It was like experiencing Manhattan for the first time! She worked on Main Street and would take me to her high-rise office to watch the Children’s Parade at Christmas. As a child downtown was magical!
When I was a teenager, I saw bands like Brainiac, The Breeders, and Guided by Voices. I remember a SPIN magazine feature about how cool Dayton’s music scene was. The city I was living in was inspiring the emerging alternative music movement! I felt very fortunate to be living in Dayton during that time.
When the 2008 recession happened, and GM, NCR, and Mead all left the City, the arts in this community struggled. As a longtime audience member of all forms of art, I felt compelled to help. I got involved with the Dayton Ballet and led their volunteer organization, The Dayton Ballet Barre, for several years.
From there, one thing just led to another, and I got involved with everything. Most people know me as the co-host of the Gem City Podcast and Dayton Music Insider blog (currently on hiatus). I tend to say “yes” to opportunities because, sadly, many people close to me, including my father and brother, died quite young. It taught me to embrace life while you can. However, after 15 years of rampant volunteerism, I’ve finally learned how to say “no,” too. For my sanity, that’s been an important lesson as well.
What inspires you about the Dayton region?
The rich art history we have inspires me, especially the contributions of women. From a dance perspective, Dayton has had such incredible pioneers, from the Schwartz sisters creating the Dayton Ballet in 1937 to Jeraldyne Blunden forming the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in 1968. They are two of the most historic dance companies in the United States! Their stories tend to get lost in our illustrious history of innovation.
Stories of the flood are also inspiring, from the rescues to how Dayton’s engineers worked hard to ensure a flood like that never happened again. I served on the Engineer’s Club Ideas Team, and they explained that the building was purposefully placed where the river breached in 1913, so if it flooded again, they would be the first affected. We have a long history of rescuing each other!
I think Dayton has a bright future ahead. We’ve taken a few hits, for sure, and we can get down on ourselves in a way that can be counterproductive. However, I think we realize we’re the ones we’ve been waiting on. We can’t depend on the cavalry coming, in the form of a mega-corporation “saving us” with lots of jobs. That would be great, but in the meantime, how are we going to move forward? The Gem City Market is a fabulous example of how we can solve problems together as a community!
What are you involved in now that excites you?
In the last few years, I started booking concerts. I got tired of driving to Columbus or Cincinnati for the shows I wanted to see. I was hanging out with David Nelson from the band New Riders of the Purple Sage, and we wanted to do a show in Dayton. I was able to bring them here with help from my friend Neil Hixson, who owned Oddbody’s music venue at the time. That’s how I started booking shows as Venus Child Productions.
I always wanted to do concerts downtown, and since 2018, I’ve been fortunate to work with Carli and Hamilton Dixon at The Brightside Music & Event Venue. They’ve done a tremendous job with the space, and now we finally have a proper mid-size venue downtown. I hosted shows there for almost a year before the COVID shutdown. I’m really excited to start doing shows there again this spring. I’ve been missing live music so much!
I’m also working with my friend Lisa Grigsby on a new venture called Lip Service. We’re helping fellow local small businesses with press releases, social media, and marketing so that they can reach Dayton audiences affordably. We’re both known as connectors in the community, so we’re taking that to the next level. It’s exciting!
If you could meet any musician/ go to any concert in time, who/what would it be and why?
I think it would have to be Festival Express. It was a 1970 train tour across Canada with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy, and several other groups. I’ve wanted to take that journey across Canada by train, but then add Janis and Jerry during their heyday? That would have been amazing!
If you had could wave a magic wand, what would you do for the community?
I’d wave a magic wand and fully fund every single one of the 4,000 non-profits in the Miami Valley region. I’d love to see what impact they have when they have all the resources they need.
We’ve all had a chance to reflect during the pandemic. What have you found to be positive during this time?
Clearing my plate! Before the pandemic, I was overcommitted and stressed out. Almost everything I was working or volunteering with locally was affected by the pandemic, so it was a massive reset for me. It allowed me to rethink my priorities. As much as I love Dayton, I want to spend a lot more time with my family in the future.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I love listening to cozy, historical mysteries with strong female leads. Many people don’t realize it, but you can get free audiobooks from Hoopla and Libby apps with your Dayton Library card. I max out my uses!
What is something people don’t know about you?
Most people don’t know what I do for a living, which is funny. People think I work for the City, but actually, my work in the community is as a volunteer. My job for nearly 20 years has been putting illustrations and photos in textbooks. Currently, I’m working as the Chicago representative for IlloZoo, a global art agency. I’m grateful for my career, but I hope that between The Brightside and Lip Service, I can generate work locally in the future.
What would be your perfect Dayton date?
My perfect Dayton date would start early checking out what’s new at the Edward A. Dixon Gallery, grab dinner and cocktails at Coco’s Bistro, catch a concert at The Brightside (of course), and end with a nightcap at the Century Bar!