If you lived here forever or are just scooting through town on Interstate 75 chances are you’ve noticed one of our premier landmarks high atop a hill across the river from downtown. I’m talking about the Dayton Art Institute.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley calls it a “jewel,” and adds, “The art it shares and promotes with our entire community, both young and old, adds immensely to the quality of life for all.”

Turns out this beautiful gem in the Gem City turns 100 in 2019. Well, sort of. You see the building was erected in 1930, but the DAI, as it’s affectionally known, will hit the century mark.

“The museum was started as a school by local people who wanted to learn about the arts and crafts movement happening in the United States at the time,” says Michael Roediger, the director and CEO of The Dayton Art Institute.

Some very famous people were part of its past including original board trustee Orville Wright; Jaqueline Kennedy visited while her husband, Sen. John F. Kennedy, was campaigning; Dale Chihuly was here during his major exhibition tour; Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez coming home to Dayton to premier their film The Way at The DAI; and Gloria Steinem stopping in for lunch while in town. How about that?

And check this out, turns out woman power was way ahead of its time.

“Julia Shaw Patterson Carnell helped to purchase the house on Monument Avenue in Downtown Dayton that served as the first home for the school and museum. Later, Julia would go on to be the visionary and benefactress for the building of the prominent Italian Renaissance museum structure that we know and love today,” Roediger says.

Julia came from a family of wealth and married Frank Patterson, brother to John, one of the founders of National Cash Register (NCR).

Smart and influential, she was able to get the museum building funded by local individuals and businesses, as well as getting two families to donate their mansions, where the museum campus now sits, to be torn down.

“When the Great Depression hit in 1929 the museum was already in construction and the funders had to pull out. Julia graciously gave the board of trustees the authority to use the $2 million she had placed in an endowment to complete as much of the structure as possible and on Jan. 10, 1930, the monumental and beautiful Dayton Art Institute opened its doors as a gift to the community,” Roediger says.

When the new museum opened the School of The Dayton Art Institute was located on the lower level of the museum with the first floor of the original utility building serving as classrooms and studios. It closed in 1974 with the last class graduating in 1975, but its graduates were a who’s who like actor, comedian, artist and Dayton’s own Jonathan Winters and Gale Halderman, an industrial design student who went on to work for Ford and is credited for the classic Ford Mustang design. Other graduates include our very own Willis “Bing” Davis, John Emery and the late Homer Hacker, just to name a few.

After the school shuttered the board of trustees and the director decided to focus on the collection as a fine arts museum.

Julia Shaw Patterson Carnell said it best, says Roediger, when she proclaimed that, “The museum should be thought of as ‘Dayton’s Living room.’”

Roediger says, “We try to think of it that way today, but less formal than a living room of 1930. I think what Julia meant was that the museum should be a warm and welcoming gathering place for the community. That sentiment holds true today.”

Speaking of today, well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“So many things are in the works for 2019,” says Roediger. “The renovation of all the galleries is underway. More than $1 million is being invested in making the galleries more user-friendly and beautiful. We are planning 100 Happenings that will take place at the museum throughout for the centennial. This will include new activities such as a DAI birthday party and a Community Day, as well as our events that have become community traditions such as Art Ball and Oktoberfest. Of course, there will be more great art with new focus exhibitions and extra special exhibitions.”

Also, renovation of the historic hillside is in the bid process now, which will include restoration of the grand staircases (by the way, one of the most photographed places in Dayton) balcony and fountains, as well as new lighting and landscaping to be completed in its 100th year.

Happy 100th DAI! You’re in good hands and sounds to me like the lights in “Dayton’s living room” will shine bright for a very long time.

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