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The Dayton Art Institute, one of the nation’s finest mid-sized art museums, was founded in 1919 as the Dayton Museum of Arts. Its founding patrons included community leaders such as Orville Wright and the Patterson brothers, founders of NCR. The museum, which also operated a traditional art school, was quickly embraced by the entire community.
Originally occupying an impressive mansion in downtown Dayton, the museum quickly outgrew its first home. Mrs. Julia Shaw Carnell, a prominent community leader, pledged to construct a new museum building if the community would then endow and pay for its operations. Mrs. Carnell’s generosity of nearly $2 million created a landmark building, designed by prominent museum architect Edward B. Green of Buffalo. Completed in 1930, it was modeled after the Villa d’Este near Rome and the Villa Farnese at Caprarola in Italy, both examples of sixteenth century Italian Renaissance architecture. Today, The Dayton Art Institute's architecturally and historically significant facility is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Sitting atop a hill on the edge of the Great Miami River over-looking downtown Dayton, the museum was renamed The Dayton Art Institute to reflect the growing importance of its school as well as its museum. The striking new building of nearly 60,000 square feet soon became known as “Dayton’s Living Room.” People from all walks of life came to the Art Institute to visit the permanent collections and special exhibitions, to attend a variety of classes, or to stroll in the gardens on a Sunday afternoon. More than 80 years later, the building still houses The Dayton Art Institute.
In September 1994, the museum announced its largest ever capital campaign to fund a major renovation and expansion of the museum. The Dayton Art Institute reopened in June 1997 with more than 35,000 square feet of additional exhibition space and completely renovated permanent collection galleries.
The museum’s collection has grown significantly over the years through generous gifts of artwork by local donors, including important Europeanart, Asian art, and American fine and decorative art collections. The collection is now comprised of more than 26,000 objects spanning 5,000 years of art history.
The museum has also built a tradition for presenting and organizing outstanding special exhibitions. As early as 1960, the museum began organizing exceptional exhibitions such as the Chrysler Collection of French Paintings, which attracted 56,000 visitors.
During the 1990s, the museum organized special exhibitions such as Theme & Improvisation: Kandinsky & the American Avant-Garde, which received international acclaim, EDGAR DEGAS: The Many Dimensions of a Master French Impressionist, which broke the existing attendance record, and ETERNAL CHINA: Splendors from the First Dynasties, which drew visitors from all 50 states and more than 20 foreign countries.
During the past decade, the museum has reaffirmed its tradition of providing outstanding educational programs and special exhibitions.
Exhibition highlights have included THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH PAINTING: Masterpieces from Ingres to Matisse, FORM FROM FIRE: Glass Sculpture by Dale Chihuly and THE QUEST FOR IMMORTALITY: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. The latter included the largest selection of antiquities ever loaned by Egypt. It included a life-sized reconstruction of the burial chamber of an Egyptian pharaoh and more than 100 magnificent objects, many of which had never been on public display or seen outside of Egypt. In 2006, the museum hosted DIANA, A CELEBRATION, honoring the life and work of Diana, Princess of Wales. It featured nearly 150 objects, including Diana’s world-famous 1981 Royal Wedding gown, 28 designer dresses and gowns, family heirlooms, personal mementos, paintings, and rare home movies and photos.
In 2011, The Dayton Art Institute organized the contemporary art exhibition Creating the New Century, which drew rave reviews from audiences and art critics. In late 2011 and early 2012, the museum hosted the exhibition AMERICAN CHRONICLES: The Art of Norman Rockwell, which drew more than 45,000 visitors.
In 2012, overall museum attendance at The Dayton Art Institute rose to its highest level in five years, with 143,921 guests visiting. The year saw many changes and improvements at the museum, including the completion of the museum’s new community gathering space, featuring a renovated Museum Store and the all-new Leo Bistro restaurant.
The Dayton Art Institute has a far-reaching impact throughout the Dayton region. Using a calculator created by the organization Americans for the Arts (www.artsusa.org), The Dayton Art Institute has an estimated economic impact of more than $8,000,000 on the Dayton Metro Area. The museum continues to develop ways of better serving visitors and attracting under-served audiences, such as the African-American community, families with young children, and young professionals. With innovative programming, increased use of technology and expanded services, The Dayton Art Institute will continue to thrive in the 21st century.