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Dayton Art Institute Director Talks About the Pandemic and the Museum Fire

Dayton Art Institute

The Dayton Art Institute has had to close down several times over the last year, and not just because of COVID. The museum also had a fire recently. Director and CEO Michael Roediger tells WYSO's Jason Reynolds the institute was founded during the last pandemic, 101 years ago, but this year may have been its roughest…

ROEDIGER: We've survived the Great Depression and wars, but we've never been closed this long. ‘We hope to reopen again later this month, and we would have been open if it weren't for the steam boiler fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt. No art was damaged. Even the building wasn't damaged, but the whole steam boiler internally melted down. So, it has been quite a year.

REYNOLDS: The fire sounds scary, not just the flames, but the possibility of smoke damage and water damage and what gets into vents and blows around. How fortunate or unfortunate was DAI with this fire?

ROEDIGER: Even though it's a fire, I would say we are exceedingly fortunate. It could have been a lot worse. I'm so thankful for our staff responding quickly and knowing what to do. Also, Dayton Fire Department was there really quickly and knew that it was a museum. So, they were very strategic about not spraying too much water because water is also an enemy to art.

A fine art museum has to have 50 percent humidity, within two degrees either way, all the time. And so when the broiler broke down, the humidity started to drop. So, in less than 24 hours, our entire curatorial team went in and started deinstalling about 80 percent of the galleries, which is a lot to do, and they did it in basically a business day. That's part of the slowdown of why we can't reopen. We had hoped to open last month.

REYNOLDS: Without being able to open for long stretches, how is DIY continuing to provide the community with access to art?

ROEDIGER: We, like a lot of places, brought art online, and it forced us to do things we've been wanting to do. So, our entire collection of over 27,000 objects is now available. You can search online. You can put in a topic. You can put in an artist's name, and you'll find the pieces that we have in our collection. I do it all the time because there's 27,000 objects. I haven't seen them all!

And our education and marketing teams really work together to create programming for young and old alike, so it's good for teachers and kids and parents. My dad is 87 and I send him the links. He loves to watch the videos. So, if you have seniors in your life, it's a great way to bring them art until they can get back into the museum.

REYNOLDS: What's next? What do you think or hope is in store for DAI in the next year?

ROEDIGER: I hope in the next year that, one, we're just able to be open so that guests can come back and be present.

I think our new normal is going to involve more technology, which is a good thing. I think it's what younger audiences want.

I think the other thing, over this last year, we're seeing more social justice issues, more equality and equity issues. And we were fortunate that our board has embraced this. We just created what we call our "IDEA" committee. So, "Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility." I think people are going to see a wider range of programming, more connection and asking what the community wants and needs from us.

Because to be quite frank, fine arts museums, right or wrong, were established by white, wealthy elite, and we're fortunate that there were folks that did those and brought this cultural asset to the community. But we're a different community than we were in 1919 and 1930, when the museum we know today opened. And we have the ability to bring people together in civilized dialog where we can have different opinions but not have to shout at each other. And I think that's the beauty of art.

You can view the DAI annual report and community meeting here.

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