I followed a lead Valerie gave me and went to meet Sherry, a woman who was trying to galvanize the Dayton arts scene through her Front Street Galleries. The gallery complex was a few two-story brick buildings with roll-down garage doors painted construction yellow. A railroad line spur still ran down the center of the asphalt courtyard. The steel door to Sherry's apartment sported a magnetic poetry set. I knocked, and, though we had never met, she waved me in smilingly as she talked on the phone.
She looked (appropriately) like a portrait subject. She had a heart-shaped face with bright red cheeks setting off her green eyes. Her hair was parted on the left and pulled back into a bun. She wore a pleated dress with a ruffled collar, beneath which dangled an antique necklace dotted with faded purple stones. When she hung up, she answered, talking a mile a minute, as you might expect of a young arts maven.
"Dayton?" she sneered. "It's an incredibly isolated place. That sounds derogatory. And I guess maybe it is. But it isn't. I'm not really the best person to ask because I want to get out of here so bad. Or, well, maybe I am. Actually, I'm going to be moving away at the end of the month. My husband and I are putting our house on the market, and we're going to move to San Francisco." She laughed nervously.
"I think Dayton's being Disneyfied, but I think that's happening all over. You and I and our generation have had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) of living through a time when everything was closed on Sunday because you were with your family, and it was the day of rest. Call that a connection to strong religious beliefs or your families or whatever. That doesn't exist anymore."
I asked, "Were you an arts pioneer down here?"
"God no," she scowled, "There have been people here for like fifteen-twenty years. It was purchased in the sixties and, back in its day, it was just wacky. There was a time in the late eighties where, if a kid ran away, this was the place they went," she cackled. "Back when artists started really using the space for studios, it got a little bit more organized. They tried to have a gallery, but that didn't work because they were all fighting amongst each other. I've realized one thing living amongst artists. There are very, very few of them who are not incredibly dysfunctional, on-the-edge-of-society people. Maybe it's because they get no support. Artists or people on the fringe see potential that other people don't. Then everyone goes 'Ohh well, now we want it.'
"I have been involved in the gallery hops since I've been here, and the people who run the building have been supportive mainly because I'm not going to attach my name to anything that's going to be crazy or weird. When we did the gallery hop, my husband's aunt said: 'Well, you're going to have just pictures, right?' There's more to art than that. I'm not a museum, but I've given people the opportunity to see something that they hadn't seen in a long time. A lot of people are looking for something over the couch. A friend said to me, 'Sherry, you know why? Because they don't have to think.' When you go to an art gallery, you have to think. And your average person just doesn't want to do that. Yet they know that they need to have something hanging on their wall. Consumerism is a past-time in the U.S."
"It's a religion," I offered.
She barked a laugh. "I like that even better. I have chosen to not play to that because it will do nothing for me on a personal level. The sad thing is that the people here who can afford to buy good artwork, won't buy it here. They'll go to New York or Chicago. I had a couple who I kept telling, 'Just make sure it's something you're really going to like.' Because, even if it only costs five hundred bucks or whatever, it's not meant to go in a garage sale or be put away when it doesn't match your furniture anymore. What do they do? They buy something that goes with the wallpaper. It's like--'Okay! Hello!' So I think maybe Dayton is just isolating for me. Maybe it isn't for other people."