One of the things I was taking pictures of in Paris were large-scale wall murals, because for a long time, I’ve been planning to push for large-scale art on Dayton buildings. However, I was thinking ad space as well as mural space. Apparently, we’ve had a turnaround on this in City Hall- but more on this in a bit.
A few walls that I’d love to see adorned- the back of CareSource- it’s a huge beige blank wall- that can be seen easily heading up Jefferson toward Riverscape and the huge blank wall facing the back of the Cannery on Wayne Avenue (building is owned by Montgomery Paper), The side of the Convention Center on Jefferson facing the Transportation Center garage (during an Urban Nights- someone was projecting performance art on it), the side of Aquarius nightclub, the backside of the building Dayton History was in- facing Riverscape, the wall that used to have the huge American Flag facing WorkFlow One. Other spaces include the current graffiti location along the railroad trestle behind the Second Street Market and not to be left out- I’d have painted one on my office building (which probably used to have a huge ad on it when it was an old corner grocery store). (If you’d like more information about the mural at right- here is the artist’s website: http://www.jefaerosol.com/  )
Of course, having a big blank wall facing a major street can also be a source of revenue for property owners like the little consignment shop on Brown/Warren at Oak- or the side of the new Coco’s building on Warren- which could have ads on them. Another is a building owned by Gary Goldflies on Wayne right next to Eastway. These walls could hold electronic billboards, giant ad murals- that could help pay for the maintenance of their buildings. But, for some reason, propaganda via paint scares our city fathers- and they want to have some kind of legal rule (and ability to charge for your right of free speech on the side of your private property).
Unfortunately, I barely have a sign on my building- because I didn’t feel like fighting the city any more than I already had to just to revitalize a building that had been vacant for twenty years. My workaround was to mount a piece of glass inside the storefront window- that originally was sandblasted with our name and address- but now just has a vinyl logo- on it- because they have no jurisdiction on what is in the window- but do with what is ON the window)
Despite a nasty fight with Key Ads for the “Dayton Feature” electronic billboard on US 35, which the mayor was against, (also see my post Electronic Billboards and You ) somehow we seem to have made a turnaround:
A 40-foot-tall dancer, a two-story-high composer, and a 90-foot-long Wright brothers scene are among the images soon expected to grace Dayton buildings, as three large murals have recently been approved by city officials, and other projects are in the works.
Two of the murals will celebrate Dayton’s arts scene, with one already under way downtown at East Third and St. Clair streets, across from the Dayton Metro Library main branch. Dayton also added colored accent lighting to new bridges and to the parking garage at Fifth and Jefferson.
The arts murals could soon be joined by other images, as Dayton this fall expanded its “graphics overlay district” downtown, which permits large “wallscapes” and special electronic signs.
“I think it can give downtown the look of cities like New York and Tokyo,” Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell said. “Most world-class cities have great public displays of art, and this is our opportunity to show we’re a world-class city.” (emphasis added)
The idea for the arts murals, which feature performers from groups such as Dayton Ballet, Human Race Theatre Company and Dayton Philharmonic, took shape very quickly.
“It happened in about two days on Facebook,” said Richard Kaiser, a local marketing strategist and arts supporter who is behind those projects. (Note: Richard is a member of UpDayton, and works for ad agency “The Ohlman Group – he’s the kind of guy we need pushing this city forward, and he’s also from Celina, just like me).
Kaiser said after an artist friend posted a picture of a New Orleans wall mural, he asked his friends if anyone knew of a good Dayton site. Kaiser said he quickly got in touch with Brian West, president of Dayton Park-n-Go , which owns two multistory buildings with blank walls, and the idea was off and running.
Kaiser said the DPL Foundation provided financial support, and city officials and the Downtown Dayton Partnership were enthusiastic. Local artist Josh Flohre, of Color Logistik Group , will install the arts-related murals at 133 E. Third St. and 20 N. Jefferson St., with a mix of his own work and images from photographer Andy Snow .
“The one building was kind of run-down and the wall looked bad, so the main thing is to beautify the city and inspire people,” Flohre said.
The City Plan Board has also approved a 98-foot by 12-foot mural of the Wright brothers and Wright-B Flyer for the upper side of a building at 506 Wayne Ave., and Wright-Dunbar Inc. is applying for city approval of a 12-foot-high Paul Laurence Dunbar mural promoting literacy at 1137 W. Third St.
Murals have long been allowed in Dayton if the applicant gets “conditional use” from the city. But the expanded “graphics overlay district” this year brings new abilities to do high-impact signs on the sides of buildings, even renting space on buildings the advertiser doesn’t own.
Dayton city planner Tony Kroeger said that could include anything from wall-size photo advertising — like the several-stories-tall LeBron James Nike ad that graced a Cleveland building for years — to digital billboards. Kroeger and Leitzell both mentioned that Key-Ads, an existing Dayton sign company, hopes to move downtown to Third and Jefferson and install major electronic signs and creative lighting.
“The point was to allow those where they make sense,” Kroeger said, adding those types of signs still have to be approved by the Plan Board. “If you currently have a blank wall that adds nothing, why not?”
Kroeger said Dayton’s policy was inspired by downtown Columbus, where “advertising murals” and large digital signs have been in use for seven years. Some of those wall ads are dramatic, such as a Nationwide Children’s Hospital ad with children appearing to climb and swing between wings of a building.
Dan Williamson, spokesman for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, said the city got fairly little opposition from residents, most of whom Williamson said like having a livelier, noisier, more active downtown.
“One issue Columbus grappled with was the idea that downtown was a place people worked, and then they went home to their neighborhoods, and Mayor Coleman really wanted to change that,” Williamson said. “There are some people who don’t like the big ads, but this is what a city looks like, this is what a downtown looks like.”
Columbus’ urban design manager, Daniel Thomas, said the city was sued, unsuccessfully, by the Ohio Department of Transportation, which argued that ad murals along state and federal roads violated a highway beautification act.
Now Columbus’ downtown commission requires murals to meet certain standards on use of art, size of text and interaction with architecture.
“The biggest problem is the creep of advertising, as a lot of these things are becoming more and more commercial,” Thomas said. “The (commission) points to better ones, often done by nonprofit groups, and says, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ But the client wants something else.”
Kroeger said Dayton is trying to encourage designs and concepts “different from the everyday billboard” to add visual interest and a sense of vibrancy to downtown.
“I saw a quote at the onset of the Great Recession saying the next big thing might not be a big thing; it might be a thousand little things,” Kroeger said. “Signage and lighting can be a lower investment, but higher impact.”
Kroeger and Kristen Wicker of the Downtown Dayton Partnership both mentioned public art and more vibrant streets as important to making downtown “more walkable” and a place people want to be. Wicker said the murals are another success of downtown’s Activated Spaces program, which has put art in vacant storefronts.
“Yes, we’re permitting things that in the past, we wouldn’t,” Kroeger said. “It’s a little different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
In Paris, the way the city originally funded the Velib bike-share system  was by granting a single contract to an outdoor ad company- to manage all outdoor ad spaces (bus shelters, billboards etc.) in exchange for the bike system.
In the last 25 years there has been one man quietly painting large scale murals and ads in town, somehow managing to work around our draconian zoning folks- Jim Gagnet of Pacesetter Painting  and co-owner of Coco’s . He’s the one responsible for putting the paint on the Oregon bridge/gate way, the Neon Movies exterior, the Coco’s sign, the murals on the side of his building facing U.S. 35 E at the Keowee exit at the corner of Hickory in South Park- and just recently painting the side of Theresa Gasper’s Full Circle Development  building facing Clover off Wayne.
There are very few true sign painters left unfortunately. New on-demand large format printing tools make it easy to print huge banners on vinyl, canvas and other materials- including vinyl with pinholes so people inside can see out if applied to glass- while people on the outside only see the art. Gagnet still knows how to grid and scale art- and then paint art on walls by hand.
There are many opportunities in Dayton to change the color and tone of our town. Garden Station  and UpDayton did a beautiful job putting art underneath the train overpass on Wayne (could use better lighting at night- and we still could paint the outside of the trestle. too). Unfortunately, RTA killed off full bus wraps and practically killed the ads on the sides of buses which was easy revenue for them. I love this taxi wrap I saw in London- it’s a cell phone ad.
We’ve also seen a little bit of light go a long way on the new bridges and the Transportation Center garage.
It’s time to let loose Dayton- let the people paint, light, poster, play on the canvas of our community. We need places for wall posters, graffiti, ads, art, color- that are unregulated and untaxed. It’s also time to realize that everything doesn’t have to be a free ride for the arts- or connected to the Wright Brothers when it comes to outdoor art.
I’ve got a whole collection of photos of large scale art and ads from my travels. To me, art does make the city come alive- from the smallest graffiti like the one at left at the entrance to an alley on the Left Bank in Paris (which might be by the artist Banksy) to the billboards of Times Square. This is a no-cost way of livening up Dayton- that could happen almost overnight – if we let go of the reins.
And of course, there is my favorite billboard, that used to have a full sized Mini-Cooper on the side of a Columbus building- with my mantra for all to see:
What do you think?