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The new Oregon Arts District

The new Oregon Arts District by Ron Rollins for Dayton Daily News

It was clearly the fun place to be.

No, not the Dublin Pub on St. Patty’s Day, though that was plenty fun, too. I’m talking about Friday, March 14, in the Oregon District.

Or, as it’s trying to rebrand itself, the new Oregon Arts District. As you may have heard, a handful of new galleries have opened in Oregon, and a local benefactor has ponied up money to help the artist/entrepreneurs make a go of it, working closely with some of the business associations that already have a stake in the Fifth Street area.

The idea is to nudge it from funky bar/boutique/restaurant zone toward being something more that our region doesn’t have: A lively, busy, widely recognized arts center. “The whole impetus … is to use the arts as a tool for economic development,” says Kristen Wicker, coordinator of the Oregon Arts District. “Not just for the city of Dayton, but the entire area.”

Friday before last, the public got its first good look at what’s been done so far. People turned out in good numbers, and it was quite a scene. Artist Mike Elsass’s Color of Energy, 16 Brown St., was hopping. You could barely get inside the Link Gallery at 519 E. Fifth. Susanne Sherette King’s color-slash abstracts mixed on the walls with Kaye Carlile’s hip, bustling crowd scenes — which seemed to reflect the activity inside the room. King was thrilled. “It’s so exciting,” she said.

“Exciting” was the word folks kept using. Loretta Puncer, whose still lifes and photographs line the walls of her space, Gallery 510 Fine Art, 510 E. Fifth St., used it, too. She said she hoped that people would come back after the intial burst of interest.

Well, here’s hoping they do — and not just for her place, but for all the others who have sunk a lot of heart, soul, sweat and energy into an effort that would benefit the whole area if it works out.

What’s next? Wicker says the district is promoting “District Dine-Around” events on the last Tuesday of every month that combine gallery visits with stops at the excellent restaurants in Oregon, for a pretty reasonable price. The first one was well-attended.

There’s talk of running events with local performance-art groups. A website is in the works, she said, that would map everything out, and link Oregon’s art spots to others downtown, such as the Dayton Visual Arts Center and the Cannery. “We hope … that this will grow, help build new businesses and also help the ones that have been there a long time,” Wicker said. “We’re trying to make Oregon a creative hot spot for the entire region.”

Wouldn’t that be something? You know your part in all this. Get out of the house and go do it.