Highlights from this week’s conversation include:
Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit abundantagingpodcast.com.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 00:07
Hello, and welcome to The Art of aging podcast of the abundant aging podcast series from United Church homes. On this show, we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with empowering conversations that challenge, encourage and inspire all to age with abundance. Our guest today is Michael Rettinger. Michael is the Director and CEO of the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio, and a champion of Dayton and the arts. He has held his positions for the past 12 years and in this time, has led strategic efforts to position the Museum of growth and to spread its influence to the larger community. He is committed to an inclusive experience for all museum visitors, as well as enriching the Dayton community with meaningful experience. We are so pleased to have you on the show today. Welcome, Michael,
Michael Roediger 00:57
Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, absolutely.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 01:00
So there are not many folks who have risen to the position of CEO, let alone in the museum space. So what drives your passion for museums in your position at this point in time,
Michael Roediger 01:12
I was fortunate to get this position 12 years ago, and to move into it, it wasn’t a life goal. I wanted to work in the arts and certainly in leadership, but I found that museums create a language. When you go to a museum, if you can’t read the panel, you can understand the art, the art really goes back to the earliest ages of humans communicating. And so we find ourselves in museums. The passion is telling our stories to beautiful art, and how people experience it and how they engage with it. And so the passion drives how we keep getting that message out, it’s a place for safe dialogue, it’s a place to talk about difficult conversations. And we can do that in a place where people can come in and know that it’s okay to think differently. But to do it in a very civil and kind way. That’s what I think they are, almost for some people a respin. So I think I love that part of it is that we’re creating a place where you can find wholeness or solace, or just to think and sometimes people, you know, come in groups and have fun, and some people need to come alone, we need to be that place in our community. And I think museums around the world serve that same purpose.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 02:37
I am a huge fan of art museums, my children will tell you that I drug them to art museums in a variety of places. And I know that art, visual arts are one of the things that help to cultivate the experience in the emotions of a BA. And that’s just really important for the way our brains work or create sparking creativity. I was really interested to hear specifically about the history of the Dayton Art Institute. And could you just tell us briefly, because that helps to bring you to where you are today? How is that history continuing to change as you see that going forward?
Michael Roediger 03:18
So the Dayton Art Institute started as a school in downtown Dayton and 99 teams of people came together wanting to learn the Arts and Crafts movement. And they started teaching each other and a school was born. So then they started doing projects and creating art and having shows and then they brought in some art. And it really just evolved. And it was the brainchild of a woman named Julia Shaw, Patterson, Cornell. She’s our matriarch. And who we look to even today for guidance, what would Julia do, and she helped to build this beautiful museum that looks over the city of Dayton, and really grew from when they moved into the building in 1930. It had 200 objects to now over 28,000 objects. And we’re considered a mid level Museum. We’re always very transparent about our museums, and most fine art museums were started by the white wealthy elite for the white wealthy elite. And I would like to think if Julie lived today, she would see that we’re a different world and a different community. And we’re really working hard to make sure everyone feels like this is their museum. We’re thankful that they set the groundwork, but we just, you know, museums, like everything, should evolve with time. So we have a very strong European collection and a very strong Asian American collection. But we don’t have a large African American college. We have a beautiful African collection, but not African American contemporary artists and so we’re working really hard because our community is about 30% African American to show that there’s representation there. But it just doesn’t stop there, our vision is that you’ll walk in if you are black, or white, or gay, or straight, or Hispanic or Asian, and you see yourself on the wall, or a sculpture that you find meaning that we just reinstalled, we have a beautiful collection of mid Eastern Middle Eastern work. You know, that’s, you know, there’s been some conflict in the Middle East for quite a long time. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have beautiful art. And we have started to see people come in to look at their history that wasn’t reflective on our walls, or in our galleries. And so that’s our big goal is to create this Italian Renaissance that looks like a palace that’s almost intimidating to some people, and say, It’s okay to come in the doors, you don’t have to be an art scholar, you’ll be able to find yourself here and relate to your history.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 06:08
So you’ve talked a little bit about the changes in the community that are helping, for you to define the changes in the museum going forward? What other sort of changes? And how do you actually go about discerning what those are and designing the museum to meet those changing needs? Talking about age use of technology learning? What, how do you use those pieces of information?
Michael Roediger 06:32
So, you know, we talked to a lot of people, we asked our members and guests what they’re interested in, we just completed a new strategic plan called intentional momentum. And it’s going to people where they are, it’s connecting with our audiences. And right now we’re starting within a three mile radius. We know we have people in different parts of the town that we traditionally always had, but who are the people that live right around us? And one of those is, you know, the Area Agency on Aging. And we want to partner with them to talk about what are the needs of people that are aging in our community? And how are they living today compared to how our grandparents lived? And how do they come in and have an inclusive and welcoming experience? We’ve also been working with Goodwill Easter Seals and United Real Rehabilitative Services, to talk about how we provide programming and access to people with different abilities. I’m really proud that we’re in the process of installing a universal changing table. I never thought about that. I mean, you know that there are adults that need that assistance. And if you don’t have it, they can’t come. And so it’s going to become a law in Ohio in 2025, that you have to have those. So we’re working to get ahead of that. Trying to create access for how people can get around. We’re a 104 year old institution, the building will be 100 in a few years. And you know, there’s a lot of stairs in here. But how do we create access? The other thing when you’re talking about learning is how do we go to people where they are? How do we go to a senior living community? Or how do we go to a community center that serves the underserved or people that are in financial need, so that we can provide access to them. We started a program a few years back when Dayton Metro libraries redid and rebuilt most of their libraries beautifully. And we said we want to be a part of that excitement. We partnered on an art program with them. But what we also did is provided library cards that could be or membership cards that could be checked out of the library, so that folks could try it so that they can come for free. If someone is on snaps or SNAP or food assistance. We also can provide a family membership of up to six people for $10 for the year, because we want people to be able to come to anybody , it doesn’t matter. Your socioeconomic level should be able to have access to a beautiful art museum. That’s what it’s for the community. So if you create barriers that can’t get there, and so we’ve been really working to say how do we break down the barriers and a lot of that you have to go to people with education programs. We are in the process of interviewing as part of a program in Dayton, an organization called learned or earn in preschool promise to hire a gentleman, a man . It’s very specific a black male artist to go in the community to preach Colors and teach art. And it’s called Black Boy brilliance. And we want to be a part of that. Because those are future artists, those are future people that are going to want to see the museum, but they may not have access at this point in their life. So it’s really thinking outside the box. I like to listen to a lot of voices because I don’t have all the answers. But I’m excited about where we’re going.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 10:22
Oh, that’s fantastic. My bow. I love the library card idea that you can check, like the museum membership card to go for free for a day.
Michael Roediger 10:32
Week, you can keep it out for a week.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 10:35
True. Oh, wow. Okay, yeah, fantastic. It occurs to me, this has been one of my issues I’ve been trying to raise, we live in a very age segregated society. And it just strikes me as you’re talking that museums are one of the places where generations can come together, and have an experience together and experience the same materials together. And it might be different ways and having to adjust for, you know, learning abilities and good styles. But how do you see the intergenerational connections that happen within your museum space?
Michael Roediger 11:18
It is really beautiful to see because we have an aging audience of traditional museum goers, and then looking at new ways to attract people to museums, because they’re so integrated in technology. And so we’re looking at how we bring those two together. I will say it’s a beautiful moment when my 21 year old son is here with my 90 year old father. And they’re looking at art and they have different perspectives. And they’re having dialogue and talking about it, or my dad’s telling him something about his life that relates to it. So we see a lot of grandparents buy a family membership and bring their grandkids or younger grandkids and introducing the art, especially if the you know, it’s a to working family and the grandparents are helping out so that it starts at a young age, we really feel like we’re at a tipping point of creating an engaging an aging population for the style of learning and engagement they want while introducing new types of learning, then the two can come together. One of my favorite stories that happened last year is that we do signature events. We have a big Oktoberfest, we have an art gala called Art ball. And then we have a fun event coming up called bourbon and bubbles. And we assume that’s a younger audience. But a friend of mine who is 90 said, Well, I want to come to that. And I was thinking why are we thinking that older people wouldn’t want to come? She had a blast. She was the life of the party, because everybody loved that, you know, this woman who was 90 something was there and enjoying the bourbon and talking to the younger people. So it was an exciting moment. It’s kind of that aha moment of don’t limp don’t say this event is for these people. And this one’s for this view, you got to think broadly, and how do we bring people together, one of the exciting things that will be coming up in the next year is we just are introducing an app. We’re part of the Bloomberg project that helps build apps at museums. And it creates access for a lot of different people, some people or my grandmother is not going to use the app, well, she can check out an iPad, and make the labels larger. A lot of times we see people that get too close to the art because even though we’ve got a big print, they still can’t read them. So they can put it up or if you know, they somehow have a little bit of vision, they can also listen to the labels. So they’ll be read, they can be done in 30 different languages. But then there’s stuff for younger people to do that’s more active with technology. So when we talk about this app, we talk about from, you know, cradle to retirement, you know who is going to be using it. And I think that’s how we have to think we’re all aging, and we don’t want to be left out of the wonderful things that I’m using him in the world has to offer.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 14:29
Absolutely. Are those all part of what you’re calling the idea?
Michael Roediger 14:34
Yeah, they all were very integrated in everything that we do with our idea of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. And we also use the E as empathy. So and then we’ll often say idea B and throw belonging on the end. So everything that we do we ask that question now. And it can mean a lot of different things. It can mean race, it can mean age, it can mean socio economic, it can mean someone who served in the military and where they are now, I mean, we do a veteran’s programs for veterans that are blind. And we have them come in and they make art. And they get to feel things. And they’re taught through the experience, because we don’t want to leave them out because they’re blind. And people think, well, if you’re blind, you don’t want to go to an art museum. It’s not true. There can be beautiful moments. We don’t want other blind people coming in and touching the art. But we can create moments where they can touch things and feel textures and talk about a work that creates a vision for them. And then they get to feel it. So they’re having sensory experiences. And then they get to make something. So it’s all part of our work. We do our idea work with how we’re trying to get members and how we do our events, and even how we mark it now. You know, we’ll look through things and we’ll say, no, this doesn’t represent who we are, take better pictures. And we worked on that for a year, we’re like, we want better pictures that represent our audience. And I think that’s, you know, that intentional, we’re intentional about what we’re doing. We can’t expect people to say, well, we’ve changed. So come, we have to prove it to people, we have to build trust, you know, that doesn’t come. I often say that overnight, because I can’t unwind 100 years of just being a white institution. But you have to start someplace. So much so that even when we have funds that are used to purchase art, that 75% of it, if it’s unrestricted, goes to buying art that represents marginalized communities. So art by or showing African Americans and Hispanics and LGBT are people with different abilities, whether the artist or the subject, and that has proven to be really meaningful in our community. Your start, I mean, I love to walk around the galleries and see someone all of a sudden have this moment of, they look like me. Or that I had that experience. My family did that on Sundays, or whatever that is, you can see the connection. And people light up, especially children. I mean, but also when you see an older person who hadn’t seen themselves, and they see someone who looks older in a painting, you know, we often think of people being when you do a portrait painting in their prime. Well, because to say an older person isn’t in their prime. It’s a different era.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 17:41
Yeah, absolutely. I was in Norway this summer. And there is a large city park. And it has the most sculptures from one artist and I used to look this up, I forget his name. But the thing that struck me was all of the sculptures and its Stone, Bronze variety of different mediums. None of them have clothes on and they depict people across the life course, it is just the most amazing, beautiful thing. The other thing that I always like to use, when I’m talking to folks, is sharing the stories behind the artists. So yeah, I’m one of those people who reads those pieces of information that the kids have up there, but you know, everyone knows the pictures of the water lilies from Monet, he didn’t start painting those until he’s 59. And they’re like 250 in that series. And the last one was painted, I think, right up till the end of his life like at 84. To be inspired by folks who later in life. Yeah, he had been working on his craft in his artwork his entire life. But he is known for the work that came later in
Michael Roediger 19:01
life. And it’s interesting, you mentioned that just yesterday, I presented a film about Monet here in town. And we saw a lot of that work and talked about his work when he started painting and how he was mastering the look of that. But then he started thinking, you know, back in that time, there wasn’t a lot that could be done about cataracts. And his vision changed. And the art changed. And that didn’t mean that he was more of, you know, the traditional impressionism which still at that point, hadn’t fully been accepted. Right. But then when you look at later in life, it almost looks like he was ahead of the app’s abstract expressionism. And because his eyes had changed. It was still beautiful work. But it was what he was seeing the world now. It is fascinating and really tells a story of an artist and you’re right. Think of Grandma Moses. Yeah, prime until she was in her 70s. And, you know, became known around the world while she was living. I mean, she was on the cover of Time and meeting presidents. So life can take you in many different different directions, and how
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 20:17
artists go beyond the changes in their physical abilities. And they find new ways to express themselves, like Monet, the other piece that I love about Manet is the first couple of years that he went to, um, Guevara. And he was just there for a short period of time, and then eventually he owned it. So not only was he painting those paintings, but he was working with the gardeners to plan what plants to plant were right. Next year, in his mind, he was envisioning next year, these are the colors that are going to be here so he was working on the palette in the subject matter seasons ahead of time, right. Yeah. And again, particularly for older adults, we don’t often think about them planning for the future. And yeah, so
Michael Roediger 21:08
Oh, no. Continue painting for sure. The film was called I Claude Monet, and it discusses how he was doing that and how they needed to protect it for this season. Yeah, yeah. You know, and I think of Matisse, even when he became bedridden, painted from his bed with a large stick. He didn’t want to give up. And he was fighting for his art. Well, and he
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 21:37
That’s also when he started doing the paper cuts, right? And, you know, for some people, he’s more famous for the paper cutting than he was for the artists. But he didn’t start doing the paper cutting until I think he had strokes or something.
Michael Roediger 21:50
And saying, I’m going to create and contribute. Yeah. And that’s, again, I think that’s the beauty of art. I mean, that you can express yourself, no matter and think of when parents put paint on the baby and just let them smear. They’re expressing themselves, whether they realize that at that point or not. And that continues throughout life. You know, there are different levels of art, but anybody can have that feeling of expression throughout their life. Yeah,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 22:27
I could go down this road a lot longer. But I want to come back to the Dayton community and the way that I have come to meet you, and I know that you’re working with others that United Church homes, is through a project that’s happening in the art museums neighborhood. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? And why are you and the museum really interested in this project?
Michael Roediger 22:50
Yes, so Longfellow school is historic, our community. It’s on the National Historic Register. And it sits right on a street parallel to where the museum sits, called Salem Avenue. It sat vacant for a while. And it was interesting to walk into it because it was like time had stopped just one day, they said, We’re not teaching school here anymore. And everybody laughed. And there were still books and things on the chalkboard and they were in debt. And so I have a friend, Tim Fobus, who has been a pastor and a fundraiser. And he had retired from both of those, and started really looking at how do we develop in marginalized communities to help create, really a growth and rebuilding or a renaissance of a community. And so he was looking at creating a senior community focused on the LGBTQ plus community and allies. And he approached me and said, Hey, we’re in your neighborhood, and I’m part of the LGBT community. And we’d like you to help us with this project. And I thought, well, how do I do that when I’m working on, you know, building up the museum, and he said, but that’s what you’ve done is you’ve you know, you’ve got to turn the museum around, and we’re right in your neighborhood. I serve on a lot of boards, but I traditionally don’t serve in a role where there could be fundraisers because I need to raise funds for the museum. So we changed the title that on the Community Advisor, and I went to my board and I explained, you know, this is good for the Dai, this investment in our neighborhood is good for the Dai and you know, we’ve started to see other projects that are starting and I think it really is because of Longfellow, someone saying we’re going to invest here, and other folks now you go down Salem Avenue, and they’re starting to invest so it’s working. And to us that was vital because it’s helping to bring an audience to us and we Go to that audience at Longfellow. We’re excited about the partnerships that can be created there. And it’s important to me as someone in the community, that as I age, if I decide to live there, which I talked about that with my partner a lot, we’re not quite there yet, in our mid 50s, even though I could I’m eligible, that we want to place that will be safe, that we know that the people that come in and provide care, understand our community and respectful of who we are. We also want to be able to live in a community where there are people that are part of our community, and that we can celebrate together. But also allies. I mean, I’m, you know, most of my friends are not from the LGBTQ community, I have a lot of them that are, but we just want what everybody else wants to have a safe place to age. But not like our grandparents did. You know, we want to have programming and things that we have access to easily, like the art museums, literally, if people are mobile, which at one fell, most of them will be mobile, you can walk to the art museum. And so that was really that tie? We want to help build and lift up our community and investment like this. I mean, there’s no question it’s going to bring people to the museum, and allow us to serve folks in the senior community, with programs and helping to spread the message of how art can help you age abundantly. And so we’re very excited about the project. I was a little nervous going to my board, because I’ve never asked for anything like that. But then my board chair was all in and said this is the right thing to do. It will be good for the entire community. But it’ll be good for the Dai as well.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 27:02
Those who know me, and I’ve said this many times before when we get to the point that my spouse may be moving into a community besides it being open. And that all can live there safely. Another feature that’s going to be really important to me is I want to know what kind of space is available in the community for creativity and artwork. I have a Sewing Studio I did that’s not going to be available in an apartment. But what would be available, large or complex, has never occurred to me. So what is the proximity of that community to other spaces where I can see when I was there recently, I, in my mind, I just hadn’t put the Longfellow as close to the Dayton artists and tude as it is. And bells were going off in my head. Oh my gosh, wouldn’t it be great to be near an art museum, I would volunteer at the art museum as well as participate in other programs that we have
Michael Roediger 28:01
classrooms and art educators. I mean, where we can program things together, there’s going to be a creative center in Longfellow for creative making of all different types. And I think those things are important. Creativity doesn’t end at any point in our lives. Like I said before, I mean, people are creative up till the day they pass.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 28:24
Absolutely, absolutely. So thank you, Michael for this time. And as I said, I look forward to many more conversations with you in the future, we just won’t record all of them. And I do need to get over to the Dayton Art Museum, Art Institute. I haven’t been there in many years. So as we come to the end of our podcast, though, there are three questions we asked both so are you ready for the questions? Ready? Okay. When you think about how you have aged, what do you think has changed about you or grown with you that you really like about yourself?
Michael Roediger 29:01
I think one of the biggest things is that I feel like I’m my true self. Now. You know, for many years, I lived as someone that I wasn’t, because that’s what society told me I had to be. But I also was afraid of acceptance from my family and from when I came out late and identified as bisexual. And so what would that mean to my spouse and you know, all those things and my son and we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t be embarrassed of me, would my board you know, not want me to be the leader anymore. And what I found as I got older was that everybody loved me for being me. And I wish I’d have done it all younger. I wish I would have allowed myself to be who I am. But I think as I matured and accomplished things in my career, I felt like I can be who I am. And so I think with aging, I have come to realize that I’m going to be who I am. And this sounds maybe a little harsh. And if people don’t like it, I don’t care. I mean, I think that’s what I’ve come to do is that I love who I am. And if people want to love me, that’s great. And if they don’t like who I am, then I don’t make room for them in my life. And I hope that as most people age, they come to this realization of who they are. And that we all bring some light to the world. Whether it’s creativity, leadership, or love. I really think and I try to do this here at the Dayton Art Institute, I try to live by a servant leader style. And I try to lead with love, I love the people that I work with. And you know that I want to surround myself with people that want to live in the light of love.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 31:02
Fantastic, thanks. Okay, question number two, what has surprised you most, as you have aged,
Michael Roediger 31:11
I think what surprised me most is that my mind and my energy feels young. But sometimes my body does. And so I’m working to try and say, I’m not going to let my body age the way it thinks it should. So whether that means physical therapy, or keep walking or, you know, trying a different type of gym or something I’ve said to my younger colleagues, keep moving and moisturize. That is my big advice. Use a good skin treatment, and keep moving. And, you know, I suffer from fibromyalgia, but I’m not going to let me Let it not let me do the things I wanted to, you know, it was just in the last few years, I’d never kayaked a kayak twice in the ocean, I didn’t think I would be able to do that in my mid 50s, where I hiked, you know, six miles down into the Grand Canyon when I was 53. I’m not giving up on what my body is telling me. Sometimes the aches and pains are worth it to have the life experiences that my brain thinks, you know, my 90 year old father always says, I look in the mirror, and I think I feel like I’m 30. But I’m 90. And so I think if you feel like that, why don’t we keep trying to do the things that we want to do that we said, Well, I wish I’d have made time for that. So travel and activities. I’m not letting my body tell me that I can’t.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 32:49
Fantastic. Thanks. And here’s the last question. And you may have already given us a hint to this one. But is there someone that you’ve met, or who has been in your life who has set a good example for you about aging, some of that inspires you to age mother.
Michael Roediger 33:05
And there’s two if that’s okay, and one is mentioned by my 90 year old father, he didn’t retire until he was 83. And God loved him to care for my mother who was passing or I don’t think you would have retired. He’s still sharp. He’s an architect here in town. And, in fact, we were talking the other day. And I said to him, you know, and probably about 10 to 12 years are retired, and he said, We don’t retire, we don’t retire. And so even in that he is officially retired. You know, he’s joined clubs, and he’s in a reading group. And he’s going driving downtown. I mean, he’s living an active life, and a meaningful life. And so I think, you know, that was a great example, then I have a friend that’s in her mid 80s. And when her husband passed away several years ago, she sat down with me, and she said, I have the friends we had together that are all our same age. But that’s not my only friend group I want to have. And so a lot of her friends now are in their 30s and 40s and 50s. Because she wants to have you surrounded with different energy and different people and learn, you know, what younger people are thinking. She’s quite the community activist. And she’s really shown me that, again, you can do anything at any age. And she just keeps serving on boards, and she’s gone on trips, too. And you know, she’s done. Those line things that you slide, you know, then I forget your call, but you’re right on the line. Yeah. She’s, like, 78 and it was like, wow, and she said, again, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna live my life to the fullest and I think I really I said to her once, I hope when I grow up, I hope I’m like
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 34:59
this Yep, yep. Well, thank you for my goal. Thank you for sharing about your abundant aging heroes. And thank you to our listeners for listening to this episode of The Abundant Aging podcast, a part of the series from Naiad church homes. We want to hear from you. What’s changed about you as you’ve aged that you love? What has surprised you most? And how do you define abundant aging and who is your abundant aging hero or influencer? You can visit us at abundantagingpodcast.com to share your ideas. You can also give us feedback when you visit the Ruth frost partner Center website at WUnitedChurchHomes.org. Michael, tell us again where can people find you and information about the Dayton Art Institute?
Michael Roediger 35:50
Well at our website at Dayton Art institute.org very easy to find this type and date and Art Institute and will pop up and my emails on there if anybody ever wants to reach out to me.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 36:03
Okay, but thank you, Michael, thank you for all the work that you are helping to shepherd the date and Art Institute and the many ways through your ideas and your connections throughout the community and I look forward to work connections in the future. Thank you. Blessings to you all.