Ask Eva Buttacavoli what makes Dayton’s art community so special and she’ll tell you the level of collaboration is only logical, but the city does it well.

Buttacavoli is the executive director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center, known widely throughout the community as DVAC. Primarily seen as Dayton’s only contemporary loft-style art center, located on Jefferson Street in downtown, Buttacavoli says the organization serves a higher purpose.

“We are the job center for artists in the Dayton area,” she shares. “We provide a resource for local artists that ensures our talented members stay in Dayton, but have the ability to show their art around the world.”

Raising the Bar

Raised in Miami, Buttacavoli began her career in the education department of Florida International University’s museum. She taught art for several years, and then co-founded the education department at the Miami Art Museum as the director of education. Subsequently, she was appointed director of education of the Austin Museum of Art (AMOA), then oversaw the merge of the curatorial and education divisions and served as director of exhibitions and education until 2009.
Upon relocating to Dayton in 2009, she served as director of teacher programs at Muse Machine and freelance curator. Immediately prior to joining DVAC, she was the first executive director of FilmDayton.

With more than 600 members, half of whom are artists, DVAC represents some of the most interesting emergent artists-to-watch and the artists emeriti whose work inspires for its insight, rich traditions and deeply-honed craft. Having taken over the organization after former director Jane Black left for the Dayton Art Institute, Buttacavoli was willing to look at DVAC a little differently.

“That’s one of the advantages of being new,” she says. “I got to shake things up a bit.”

She started by creating application and selection processes for some of the gallery’s more well-known shows.

“This was new for DVAC’s members, but necessary in order to raise the prestige of the organization. We wanted to feature the most compelling work of our members,” she adds.

All member artists are guaranteed inclusion in the annual Open Members’ Show, but other exhibitions are more competitive. Selected by panels of prestigious professionals from various sections of the art world, DVAC’s 12 annual shows solidify the organization’s reputation and truly reflect the level of talent in Dayton.

The process authenticates DVAC’s place in the artistic dialogue going on in the Midwest and across the country.

“It was time to raise the bar, but it was also time to help our member artists raise their game as well.”

No Starving Artists

And so they did. DVAC provides gallery space and a place to sell art. Now, the organization also has a commitment to helping area artists succeed in the arts world.

With a job training mentality, member artists receive professional development opportunities, such as learning to write an artist statement, file taxes, find funding, write grant proposals, frame and ship art, and write creative show titles and descriptions.

In fact, DVAC, along with Rosewood Arts Gallery in Kettering and the Springfield Art Museum, hold an annual artists’ boot camp in August that provides the basics of these fundamental skills for artists in today’s world. The camp is funded in part by the DPL Foundation.

“Our mission is not just to provide a place for them to showcase their work, but also the necessary tools and resources to get their art beyond Dayton.”

And its members agree.

“DVAC is the best vehicle for newer artists like me (who have little experience showing work) to be able to enter a piece into a show, receive other artists’ feedback, and gauge the community’s response to my work without the overwhelming pressure of producing an entire body of work for a solo exhibition,” says member artist Annie Bowers.

It Takes a Village

The other important part of DVAC’s mission is cultivating an audience for contemporary art. A little off the beaten path, DVAC works hard to give downtown event-goers a reason to stop by its Jefferson Street space.

In addition to the 12 juried installations each year, the organization hosts events like its annual Art Auction held at the Schuster Center. Of the 118 pieces on display at the 2014 auction, 111 were sold, raising more than $80,000.

The organization is in the process of installing purchased art at City Hall, Dayton Children’s Hospital, Premier Health, Wright State University and Coolidge Wall.

“But we are selling to the same 30 to 50 people in the community,” shares Buttacavoli. “That’s what I want to change in the future.”

While DVAC does collaborate with other local arts organizations like the Victoria Theatre Association and the Human Race Theatre, Buttacavoli points out that all of the organizations are trying to get the same funding.

“The Dayton community has a wealth of incredible arts organizations for its size, but in order to continue and grow we also need a wealth of varied supporters. We have a lot of supply and not enough demand.”

Buttacavoli encourages new-to-art members of the community to get involved. With public events like Urban Nights and First Fridays, there are many opportunities to learn more about and support local artists.

More to Come

Starting in September, the gallery will participate in a statewide photography show called “Fotofocus” that includes three Dayton-based photographers and one from Hueston. Other versions of the show will also run at the Cincinnati Museum of Art and the Dayton Art Institute. In November and December, DVAC will have its annual “Art to Buy” show featuring a gift gallery just in time for the holidays.

DVAC is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is closed Sundays and Mondays. For more information about upcoming shows or how to get involved, visit daytonvisualarts.org.