When the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide shutdown hit in March, Dana L. Wiley worried about the future of her Dayton art gallery.
But the Wright State University fine art alumna has kept the gallery at the Front Street Studio Gallery on solid footing with a robust online presence and opening the gallery to patrons by using a reservation system and social distancing rules.
Wiley believes art remains intrinsic and important to people and can serve as a refuge in the pandemic.
“I think people are worried about basic necessities, however, I believe people also want and need to focus on things that are different than the current global situation,” she said. “The local art community is successfully working to create a focus of art in Dayton, and this has fostered a real interest that keeps people coming back to places like Front Street and the Dana L. Wiley Gallery.”
Wiley grew up in Schoolcraft, a village in southwestern Michigan near Kalamazoo.
“I have always been interested in art,” she said. “As a child, my most prized possessions were art supplies. Over the years, I knew I needed to explore this area and understand my place in it.”
Wiley chose to attend college at Wright State, attracted by its strong academics and because the Department of Art and Art History had an interesting sculpture program.
Wiley said the Wright State art program was valuable because it presented art as something to be appreciated and respected. She tries to reflect that in her gallery.
“There is a long line of artists over the millennia and beyond which requires us to be cognizant of what we call art and its place among art history. The instructors are very dedicated and enthusiastic about this subject,” she said. “There is a certain responsibility in the type of art I put into the gallery, and that feeling of responsibility came from this art program and the instructors at Wright State.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree in fine art in 2016, Wiley took a year to work on her art and build a portfolio. In 2017, she rented a space at Front Street and partnered with another artist to start an art gallery, which opened in November 2018.
Wiley describes her art as “in progress,” an exploration in two different directions.
“I like to work on landscapes and cityscapes as well as geometric work in the hard-edge genre,” she said.
Wiley says it’s the people who make Front Street such a unique and inviting place.
“It’s about community, which is to say that everyone is working towards one goal and that is to promote a culture of art in its many different forms,” she said.
Front Street, a complex of historic industrial buildings, has become a volcanic presence in the Dayton arts scene. It is a honeycomb of art studios, galleries and shops that feature everything from paintings, photography and sculpture to furniture-making, glass-blowing and even tropical fish.
The Dana L. Wiley Gallery closed in March when Gov. Mike DeWine imposed a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was emotional about closing the gallery,” said Wiley. “It was a confusing time. There were all of these challenges facing society over the pandemic, and in addition, there was the possibility that I would need to close the gallery’s doors permanently.”
Wiley said she was at first resentful of the situation, but felt fortunate that she and her family were healthy.
“It seemed that I had a choice as to how I was going to react to this situation,” she said. “For me, I needed to see this as a way to reinvent the model for our exhibitions and the gallery as a whole. This was an opportunity to grow.”
Wiley’s art gallery had always had a website and a social media presence. But most of the gallery’s emails and promotions were designed to have visitors come into the gallery.
“We needed to take it to the next level,” she said. “The goal of the gallery was to direct the audience to the website, where we have the exhibitions displayed and a sales component available.”
The Dana L. Wiley Gallery website features colorful paintings from a variety of artists as well as photos and a video of the gallery itself. Viewers can purchase the paintings online and have them shipped.
Wiley said the biggest challenge in the midst of COVID-19 is getting people to see the artwork.
“We needed to create an environment in the gallery that was inviting and interesting,” she said. “We want to create a space in which people will want to view and learn about art through the openings of new exhibitions, workshops and art talks. Now the challenge becomes to create that same environment or enthusiasm through the use of online platforms.”
Wiley’s gallery has since reopened and requires visitors to make appointments and use social distancing guidelines. She said there definitely seems to be an interest from the public in viewing artwork in person, talking about art and owning art.
“We need to be creative,” Wiley said. “We will feature online or virtual events on Facebook Live instead of having opening receptions like we’ve done in the past that were open to the public. We wanted to get the artists and their work out to as many people as possible.”