I have wanted to write about Dayton-based Midwest Movement for forever, but determining how to go about it was a major hurdle. The multitude of crafts, feelings, ambitions, and activities cannot be summed up with a single perspective. Physical distance is a factor: though I am a member I rarely get to participate in person because I go to school over two hours away. Winter break gave me time to find a strategy, and when I returned to school I set out FaceTiming, texting, e-mailing, and direct messaging members. The insight from my friends and fellow members brings the life to this article, and so their words take center stage.
The Midwest Movement began as organically as it has grown, percolating in 2014 from existing friendships and local connections. Byron R. Berry (a visual artist, poet, and emcee), his brother Robert (a visual artist and emcee also known as R3X Dandilion), and their friends Julius Pritchett (a visual artist) and Dion (an emcee also known as Adison) all graduated from Stivers School for the Arts, a public middle and high school with magnet areas dedicated to the visual, written, and performing arts. They collaborated heavily prior to the creation of the Movement but wanted something more.
Though Dayton’s creative people are very supportive of each other’s work, there are few opportunities to collaborate across the city, especially beyond Stivers. Drawing on East Coast art and music collectives such as Pro Era and The Underachievers, Byron “thought it would be pretty cool if [Dayton had its] own collective” and pitched the idea to Robert, Julius, and Dion. This was not without precedent: Byron, Julius, and Chris Turner (a visual artist also known as Red), had already founded a smaller art group in Stivers called Create Nation, and plenty of other small collaborations were established throughout the city. The missing piece was a collective that would connect everyone.
Byron used existing social media connections to spread the word about the idea for the group, and people contributed their thoughts. “Kelly [an emcee also known as King Kells] came up with ‘Midwest Movement.’ Before then we didn’t have a name for what we did, we just kind of liked the idea.”
Thus @midwestartmovement was officially born on Instagram and the idea spread like wildfire. The strength of the social media following and demand for a large-scale, in-person meetup resulted in September 2014’s Art Show 1. It intensified the energy around the collective and increased excitement among Dayton’s youth.
The Movement responds to the needs of the young art community as well as the general perception of Dayton. Media representations tend towards extremely negative and overlook many of the great initiatives and people that make the city better. Robert sees the Movement as a way “to kind of give ourselves a stage, put our art up and have these types of performances and share our music with the city, to kind of bring something lighter. There was all this bad talk about the city and there’s all this beautiful art here, all this great potential, let’s try and access it and show the people what’s really here in Dayton.”
One of the most visible aspects of Midwest Movement is the sheer number of creative expressions. OG BIG DAVE, a visual artist and creator of TED (The Epitome of Dope) clothing line, describes it well: “INDIVIDUALLY WE ARE STRONG IN A PARTICULAR AREA OF ART, AND TOGETHER WE’RE A SUPER TEAM OF ARTISTS.”
These strengths are reflected in the work shown to the public and the dynamic among the members. “Midwest Movement is a diverse group of people who all have different talents: music, dance, art, poetry, etc.” says Daria Love, a visual artist. “That’s what makes us special,” adds Chris. “We work as a collective but we are so versatile with our skills and talents and the diversity will always keep everything fresh and new.”
“It definitely makes me go way harder on everything I’m doing,” Robert says.
“We’re not trying to outdo each other, but seeing somebody’s work and being inspired by something you think is great allows you to push yourself in a lot of different ways that you might not have even thought of before.”
Midwest Movement’s positivity enriches artistic and personal growth. Sam Lobér, a visual artist, values the group attitude. “I feel that the Midwest Movement is a great thing as far as supporting local artists, I love how we are open to anything because we believe that everything is considered an art and anyone is considered an artist in some way.”
This support resonates with Carolyn Hunter, a visual artist and writer. “Before the Movement I was more focused on being skilled than being myself, which … is the most important quality as an artist in any medium. The difference in my work definitely has been evident and I thank my peers for that.”
Members continually demonstrate their dedication to each other. especially when facing personal and artistic hurdles. Carolyn sees this within herself: “I was on the brink of giving up, but since MWM’s inception, I have fallen back in love with the arts and decided to stay doing what I love best.”
Stivers School for the Arts is an important influence on Midwest Movement’s scope. Recognized for highly competitive auditions with a limited number of slots and six years of intensive study, Stivers is also strong because it offers immersion in a community where everyone is an artist.
This environment supplied many of the initial connections within the collective and remains an important part of many members’ lives, and Midwest Movement expands on the benefits.
“It gives you an opportunity to talk to and greet people that you don’t know as well,” says Robert, who graduated from Stivers in 2013. “A lot of the members are younger students at Stivers … [The Art Shows and meet-ups] give me the opportunity to introduce myself, have a quick convo.” Friendship and mentorship are built into the Movement, and getting to know an artist you admire after watching their work grow is truly fulfilling.
As a younger member and current Stivers student, Zade sees these school connections as a huge component of the Movement. “I learned of the group Create and I loved how they had a group dedicated to art! And I wanted to have something like that really bad so I kinda created a little group of my own called ‘being’ with me and my friend Isaac… I looked up to Byron and them for doing what they loved and making it like a group, then I slowly kinda became friends with them and everything merged together a bit.”
The Movement also addresses larger needs for young artists, many of which are not acknowledged in school. “Instead of the usual ‘you need to make work like this and that and them,’ the Movement says, ‘You should make work that YOU want to make,’” comments Carolyn.
Byron adds, “A lot of fine art is really pushed out in the media, so this is a more direct approach from the youth with our art, putting out things of this generation rather than trying to appeal to the masses. We’re putting out what’s us.”
While art can be experienced any time on social media, in-person events such as the Art Shows bring all participants’ good vibrations to the forefront. With poetry readings, galleries, dancers, bands, local clothing labels, henna, video games, and plenty of time to dance and mingle, the Art Shows are large sensory experiences that truly encompass everything that Midwest Movement is about.
Spontaneity defines the shows. Each one is different, taking place at a variety of local venues and responding to members’ ambitions. Sam finds this especially exciting. “I love how the shows have been at multiple locations. The environment was different with every show and that changed my perspective on how I want to present my work as well!” The aftermath leaves everyone with new ideas and directions to try. For Sam, that includes making hand-drawn shirts and doing a live art piece at the upcoming Art Show 4. One constant is the energy brought by the bands, emcees, DJs, dancers, and poets that share their work all evening long. Zade, a member of rock group The Zygotes, describes performing at the Art Shows.
“Playing is much more exciting because the vibes are different, everyone is there to have fun and see art … it’s not like most bars where people are mostly there to drink and the music is a bonus.” Even though it takes a lot of coordination to put the shows together, they always end up being rewarding.
“I love nothing more than seeing my peers not only succeed, but flourish, and entertain, all in one,” says Carolyn.
The Art Shows set themselves apart not only for the quality and breadth of the work presented, but also the support systems that make them happen.
It is undisputable that everyone loves the Art Shows, but one of the Movement’s biggest goals is simply getting to spend more casual time together. With the group’s size, it is difficult to get everybody in one place. Those “very rare moments when … at least fifteen people can get together” are what Byron enjoys most.
Since the Movement and its members are so young, the possibilities for the future are endless. Giving back to Dayton is a shared long-term goal. “Maybe we can pull in money to help Dayton out,” Robert posits. “Traveling, having Midwest Movement Art Shows from Dayton in different states and areas, like ‘hey, you guys can do this too.’ It’s an inspirational kind of thing, you know?” With everything expressed by members through their work and words, Carolyn links it all together perfectly.
“The Midwest Movement is the revival we need as artists and activists to convey and construct the positivity to put back into our communities. And an art movement is exactly what the Midwest needs. It can only go up from here.”
Upcoming activities for Midwest Movement include a Fashion Show slated for March and a two-day art event in the summer. Art Show 4 is highly anticipated and happening in the near future. RED X TED—a collaboration between Chris and OG BIG DAVE—is dropping soon, the spring TED collection is coming out mid-April, and SUPA TED, a collaboration with Byron, is in the works. Look below to follow the Midwest Movement-related accounts not cited in the article and enjoy amazing art every day.
Midwest Movement Accounts:
Collective and Project Instagram Accounts: