Poet's work on display at Dayton Arcade

·5 min read

Oct. 31—Thought-provoking creative expression illuminates from local poet and spoken word artist Sierra Leone, whose dedication to urban creative arts has enriched the Dayton community in her role as president and artistic director of OFP Theatre/Production Company.

Beginning Nov. 1, her powerful, poignant and relevant artistry will engage and influence once more in "Walking With Words," a collaborative interactive typographic student exhibition at The Hub inside the Dayton Arcade.

The University of Dayton Department of Art and Design's graphic design students visualized her poetry to create new meanings that celebrate humanity, community, inclusivity and diversity. Featuring nearly 20 poems, the exhibit is described as showcasing "the actions of connections, imagination, learning and linking experience into tangible outcomes as the words move you through the space — literally and metaphorically."

"The way this exhibition has unfolded with having a body of work already set and prepared for students to examine and put under a microscope has been really special," said Leone, inaugural community artist-in-residence at The Hub and visiting scholar at The Hub. "Writers don't always have the opportunities to be exhibited like visual artists. I've written hundreds of poems — I write more than I present — and with my roots being in criminal justice, I know what type of writer I am. I was able to share with the students the process of how I write, the structure and form of each piece, and what each piece represents in the world and its connections to great poets I admire such as Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gwendolyn Brooks and Nikki Giovanni."

Among the selected poems are: "Ritual: Forgiveness," designed by Colleen Glavic; "A Brother's Love," designed by Elliot Gilardi; and "Love In The Light," designed by Gracie King.

A fan of typography and poetry, Misty Thomas-Trout, UD assistant professor of graphic design, is pleased to have provided her 13 students a diverse, experiential learning, community-based design project that expanded their knowledge beyond the classroom. She particularly wanted them to obtain real world experience so they can evolve as designers capable of working with a variety of clients.

"Having the students see Sierra as their client and also have the ability to feel her work and visualize it has been really lovely," Thomas-Trout said. "As a Black female artist and poet, the content of her work is heavy and predominately outside the life experience of the students. So, for me, the diverse, inclusive aspect the University of Dayton always want us to weave in is (apparent). Having these students look at other cultures and understand the experiences of African-Americans builds empathy and understanding. Designers should be overly sensitive about what they put out there in the world. One of my students said it best — being comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Having previously collaborated with Human Race Theatre Company, Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, UD Theatre, and Wright State University among others, Leone, an Ohio Governor's Award winner and 2020 Kennedy Center Artist Fellowship Finalist Nominee, continues to attract and inspire local creatives. Her numerous commissions include pieces at Levitt Pavilion and Dayton Metro Library.

In turn, "Walking With Words," which features an audio component allowing patrons to hear Leone recite her poetry while examining the displays, extends beyond The Hub and moves throughout downtown Dayton and its surroundings. The journey begins at the entrance of The Hub and ultimately to the exhibit located on the second floor. Next stop, walk across the street to Levitt Pavilion. From there, walk two blocks to the Dayton Metro Library. Patrons are encouraged to finish the outing in the Wright Dunbar District to experience the final two stops at Greater West Dayton Incubator and EbonNia Gallery.

"The Hub is an innovation space but it's also a space for the arts," said Vince Lewis, president of The Hub and director of UD's Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership who commissioned Leone's poem "Spirit of a Flyer" for The Hub's grand opening last March. "Sierra's poetry conveys the spirit of The Hub, which is a spirit of innovation, pioneers and risk-takers. 'Walking With Words' clearly conveys (our purpose) to create a multidisciplinary space that connects students and people from all different backgrounds and disciplines and brings them together to create opportunities."

Knowing how rare it is for a poet to be celebrated with a full exhibit, Leone is grateful for this moment. At the same rate, she hopes her work can continue to be a catalyst for productive discussions among all ethnicities and zip codes to cultivate societal change.

"This is an honor beyond anything I could have imagined," she said. "I hope the exhibit goes well because I want to open the door for others. And I also hope the exhibit reminds people we have to move in our mindset in how we see society. I hope people have a paradigm shift in how they are interacting with words. We walk with our words all the time but we don't take action. We need to physically change our perspective and consciously stop and consider another human being's journey if their journey is different than ours. And hopefully after people leave the exhibit, they will realize that different is actually perfect."

HOW TO GO

What: "Walking With Words"

Where: The Hub, 31 S. Main St., Dayton. Patrons are encouraged to view Sierra Leone's poetry throughout downtown Dayton at Levitt Pavilion (134 S. Main St.) and Dayton Metro Library (215 E. Third St.) and within the Wright Dunbar District at Greater West Dayton Incubator (1105 W. Third St.) and EbonNia Gallery (1135 W. Third St.).

When: Beginning Monday, Nov. 1; A celebratory reception will be held Friday, Nov. 5 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

More info: Call The Hub at 937-739-6800 or visit thehubdayton.com.

FYI: Startup Grounds, a coffee shop located in The Hub, has created a special "Spirit of a Flyer" mocha latte to celebrate the exhibit.

About the Author

Russell Florence

Russell Florence Jr. is team leader/coordinator of Lifestyles/Dayton.com. He has been an arts/lifestyles reporter for Dayton Daily News since 2012. He formerly served on the Dayton Daily News Community Board of Contributors and assisted the Dayton Daily News Editorial Board. He received his BA in mass communications from Wright State University.

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