Idea People: A Conversation with Carli Dixon
I am seeing signs all over town of people choosing to act, with a vision and a passion, to manifest what they want to see in their community.
Dayton artist, entrepreneur and community activist Carli Dixon has been working for several years with her husband, noted sculptor Hamilton Dixon, to create a special corner of downtown Dayton that will have a positive impact on the area. We checked in with her recently to see how things are going at the place they call AttaGirl Art & Garden Complex, 811-905 East Third Street.
Q: For folks who haven’t heard of it yet, describe the AttaGirl Complex and what goes on there.
A: The AttaGirl Complex is made up of a series of three buildings that include a 6,000-square-foot butler building, an old gas station building on a large lot, and an 18,000-square-foot warehouse, situated on East Third Street between Keowee and Webster. The complex is a work-in-progress that currently includes Hamilton Dixon’s art studio, a custom motorcycle part fabricator, and a venue space in progress. We also have recently completed renovations to a new party room that is available for daily/nightly rental.
Q: What attracted you and your husband to this particular property?
A: Our interest originated from the need to find a permanent studio for Hamilton. The smaller 811 building piqued our interest, but purchasing it required committing to the purchase of all three buildings. As we analyzed the properties more and compared them to other available buildings in town, we become more intrigued. The biggest selling points were: (1) the price and (2) the neighborhood—proximity to 2nd Street Public Market, the Keowee-Third Street intersection, the Cannery, the Firefly Building, Olive, Garden Station and RealArt Design.
Q: AttaGirl seems to be a launching pad for a number of your various interests—gardening, arts, community involvement. Talk about that.
A: The Complex development is such a long-range endeavor that we have tried to find success and accomplishment in tangible, short-term happenings. We have hosted several Pecha Kucha Nights (idea-sharing parties; www.pecha-kucha.org), participated in several Urban Nights and we had an amazingly wonderful go at urban gardening in a commercial space. Our landscaping at the Complex this year included corn, purple broccoli, kale, lemon cucumbers, raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes, red kuri squash, bok choy, chard and a variety of zinnias and sunflowers. We are fans of the edible landscape, for sure. We planted seeds in the spring, which are much less expensive than bushes and plants, and watched as a colorful, bounty-filled landscape emerged through the summer. It was an absolute blast. There are some great veggie photos on our website, www. AttaGirl.homestead.com.
Q: What is the five-year plan?
A: By October 2012, we plan to have completed the interior and exterior renovations to Hamilton Dixon Studio in the 8111 building, complete with a large exterior sculptures and official signage and landscaping. But the following October, we plan to have opened a drive-through of some sort in the gas station building, with a mix of coffee and locally produced lunch food, and outdoor seating to add to the street-level atmosphere. We will utilize containers to add some additonal shops, like a bike repair or ice-cream stand. As for the 905 warehouse, we will have completed basic renovayions and sprinkler installation to accommodate tenants that will range from artists to sole proprietor enterprises. Renovations are under way by one of our tenants in this building who plans to open a venue space, so this building has the potential to offer some larger public gather space as well.
Q: How is what you’re doing part of larger trend in Dayton?
A: I think it’s a reflection of the do-it-yourself mentality, which seems to be sparking in the community again. Hamilton and I visited the Dayton History Museum with our kids this past weekend and we were sort of giddy with pride about this place we call home. Dayton has been, and still seems to us to be, a placed with people who do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of thoughtful planning and strategizing, but I see the most impact when people start doing something. I am seeing signs all over town of people choosing to act, with a vision and a passion, to manifest what they want to see in their community. We’re grateful and humbled to be a part of it.
Q: What do you thing Dayton needs to be a better place?
A: More people enjoying our downtown. We have an amazing long-range vision mapped out in the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan, and until it is funded and implemented, we need some short-term ideas to pursue as a community. I’m not city planner, but what if we began aggressively enticing new people to the city center, such as urban farmers, artists, musicians and graphic designers who don’t require an employer per se? We could woo folks who have spent years in bigger cities struggling with a high cost of living and over-crowding who would appreciate this place for the assets so many of us tend to take for granted. How? (1) Adopt really progressive urban farming laws—a win-win-win. Current residents would have an opportunity for reduced living costs, with increased self-sustainability. Further, it would make this city desirable to the new energized crop of young, urban-faming homesteader types, not to mention the immigrant population we have have recently vowed to welcome. (2) Adopt a home reuse plan similar to the Good Neighbor Program, where foreclosed houses are sold for pennies on the dollar in exchange for three to five years residency. (3) Establish a volunteer group of graphic designers/marketers to promote the home reuse program to our nation’s cities hardest hit when the real estate bubble burst and high unemployment rates, as well as to recent graduates from colleges with farming, arts and graphic design programs.
Q: Are you bullish on the city, or concerned?
A: I’m bullish, for sure. I see new enterprise and small-scale successes igniting everywhere I look. My drive home each day leads me past the glowing, cutomer-filled windows of Olive, Ghostlight Coffee and Press, and I see new structures, art or garden areas at Garden Station. I drive by the steady addition of new townhouses being constructed near the Dragon’s stadium, and grin with each new “sold” sign that appears. But I’m most bullish about the people who choose to live, work and play downtown. When I reflect on the character of my many neighbors, friends and business associates who are all actively engaged in supporting and investing in the growth of our town, I’m proud and full of hope about the future of our city.