Dayton Upfront

 Dayton Upfront

The Wright Image Group hopes a life-size replica of the Wright Brothers plane designates Dayton as the real birthplace of aviation; Cityfolk’s beloved three-day cultural festival comes to a close. Monumental Aspirations

Eight years ago, Dayton’s all-volunteer organization, the Wright Image Group, proposed the idea of building a massive replica of the 1905 Wright Flyer III that flew for 39 minutes. The Wright Image Group wanted a monument that would promote the diverse aerospace and technology programs and bring attention to the outstanding universities and medical and research laboratories already in Ohio.

“We’re hoping that when this monument is finished, it will bring more aviation companies and businesses to the city,” says Walter Ohlmann, committee chairman of the Wright Image Group. The project has already created 420 jobs, and Ohlmann sees investing in the region’s industrial base as a significant way of encouraging investors to bring more jobs to the state.

Although the project needs $10 million to complete the monument—they have $1.4 million currently raised—the Wright Image Group plans to build the monument at the intersection of Interstates 70 and 75, also known as the “Freedom Veterans Crossroads.” Fifty-three million cars drive through that intersection every year, and it will be hard to miss the immense 80,000-pound replica atop a 270-foot pedestal. The monument, which will also have the same 144-foot wingspan as the original Wright Flyer III, will also be seen from three miles away.

With this monument, Ohlmann is hoping more tourists will visit the region. Ohio is already known as the “Birthplace of Aviation,” and this will give attention to Ohio’s Aviation Trail, which has over 30 historic sites such as the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and Wright Cycle Company, National Aviation Hall of Fame, the Air Force Museum and Hawthorne Hill, which was Orville Wright’s home. “When it comes to aviation, Ohio has played a main factor,” adds Ohlmann. “We have the Wright Brothers who were the first to fly; John Glenn, the first man in space; and we have Neil Armstrong, who was the first man on the moon.”

Besides bringing in jobs and tourists, he hopes the monument will boost the area’s economy, improving roads and overpasses that lead to or are around the monument. “Because of this monument I feel very gratified. With any undertaking you feel successful starting and finishing it,” says Ohlmann, who hopes the project will be finished in three years. “I want people to recognize that the Wright Brothers made Dayton the real birthplace of aviation.” 

By Alex Weaver

A Bittersweet End

For years, Cityfolk, a nonprofit organization based in downtown Dayton, has brought dance, arts and music from all over the world to its annual festival offering audiences the opportunity to learn about the artistic traditions of other cultures, which is its mission.

“It’s to also realize how much we have in common,” says Matt Dunn, community and economic development specialist with Montgomery County and president of the organization’s board.

Although the festival, which began in 1996, is not the only Cityfolk program, it’s the most comprehensive allowing visitors to experience many cultures in one place for an entire weekend. Cityfolk also took a different musical approach this year. “We deliberately chose fusion-style music – those bands that were influenced by various traditions,” says Dunn.

Like Searson, a band of multi-talented musicians and dancers made up of three sisters: Erin, Heather and Colleen Searson. The trio plays a variety of musical instruments and incorporates expert step dancing into their lively, even fierce, performance style. They performed at the 2013 festival.

This year’s festival also featured the PigPen Theatre Company, another multitalented group that has received acclaim from The New York Times and New York Magazine. “We’ve always had a knack of introducing bands before they make it big, those that are emerging artists,” says Dunn. “I see this year as no different.”

And it’s the music that kept Dayton resident Joyce Gibbs coming back to Cityfolk Festival every year. “It seems like every year I learn to appreciate a style of music I never paid attention to before,” says Gibbs.

In spite of a hot, steamy 2012 Cityfolk Festival, Gibbs remembers dancing to “jazzy, pulsing, Indian party music” and watched others dressed in everything from saris to cowboy hats. “I love how music brings people together who would otherwise not cross paths,” she adds.

But the Cityfolk Festival wasn’t just music, it also included food and merchandise from various cultures. Vendors offered wares from China, Burundi/Rwanda, India, Mexico, Appalachia, and also Native American arts. Trucks lined streets near Riverscape offering both eats from other cultures and festival favorites.

Some controversy surfaced, however, about charging festivalgoers a $7 admission per person or $17 for a weekend pass. Though Cityfolk relied on hundreds of volunteers to run the festival, bringing in performers isn’t free. Additionally, the 2012 festival was financially disastrous when violent storms resulted in $100,000 in losses.

After this year’s festival failed to bring in the revenue needed to support the event, organizers decided to cancel the 2014 event. Like many nonprofits, Cityfolk faced rising operational costs and a tough funding climate. Citing declining ticket sales and less sponsorships, Cityfolk trustees had to make a decision. But while the festival may not go on, the organization is continuing some programming for 2014.

According to the Cityfolk web site, the jazz series will continue and includes performances by groups like reggae artists Taj Weekes & Adowa and Creole musician Cedric Watson.

Here’s hoping that they can find a way to bring the festival back. It was one of the best cultural experiences in the city and through music, art and food brought people together from all over the region. It will be missed.

By Alison Bouer