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Arts culture holding off area talent drain

Arts culture holding off area talent drain: Summer Space meant to be place where artists blossom by Terry Morris

The brain drain isn’t taking away all of Ohio’s top students.

Ben Norton and Amanda Baker, both 22 and May 2009 graduates of the University of Dayton who came from bigger cities, are launching careers as artists here.

The reason why is Summer Space, a pilot incentive that provides studio space, supplies, a gallery opening in the fall and serious encouragement to create.

“If I was back home in Nashville, I would be living with my parents, painting in the basement and competing just to get my foot in the door of the art scene,” said Norton, a painter whose work is being sponsored by Summer Space board member Sue Thompson.

“I’m already part of that here. I never expected to have an opportunity like this.”

“I think we can start something,” said Baker, a photographer from Columbus. “I would love to be part of putting Dayton back on the charts.”

Besides community outreach and activities including making art live on the street, the artists’ part of the bargain includes “building a body of work. I am expected to make art,” Norton said. “There’s some pressure with that, but there are fewer obstacles. They have been removed.”

“This is pushing me to do things I’m not comfortable with. That’s forcing me to grow,” said Baker, whose duties besides photography include maintaining the project blog,, creating posters and producing three coffee-table books.

One about the Oregon Arts District will be financed by her sponsor, Sue Baroo, and be dedicated to Jay Haverstick, who died several weeks ago. His Jay’s Restaurant is next door to the vacant Excelsior building, where the 10 Summer Space artists have their studios on the third floor.

The building’s owner plans to convert it into luxury condominiums when the economy and real estate market improve.

“When that happens, we will be kicked out. That’s gentrification,” said Dayton artist and gallery owner Mike Elsass, who began Summer Space as a way to nurture the Oregon District’s “community-based arts culture.”

Other Summer Space artists include Smith College studio art graduate Emily Burkman, Dani Schmidt, who has completed her master’s degree at Miami University; Alyssa Foland, Ohio State University graduate, and local artists Darren Haper, L. Ann Hollingsworth, Brooke Landerman, Lesley Walton and Elsass.

There are links to some of the artists on the Summer Space web site. Their studios in the Excelsior, 207 E. Sixth St., will be open to the public during the First Friday downtown art hop from 5 to 10 p.m. July 3.