Column: Take the road less traveled to experience the cultural offerings of our rural communities

Editor’s Note: This is a column from Cox First Media Contributor Rodney Veal that originally published in the Dayton Daily News, a sister newspaper to the Journal-News Pulse. Veal shares insights and stories from artists and creatives from all corners of the community. As the host of ThinkTV/CET Connect for nine years and a lifelong artist in his own right, Veal has a front-row seat to the impact our arts community has on the wellbeing of our region.

Living in close proximity to the cultural offerings of Cincinnati and Columbus, it is effortless to travel the I-75 and I-70 corridors and bypass the unique and rich cultural offerings of our smaller communities.

With a few more weeks left in our summer season, one-day excursions are just the thing to satisfy the impulse to explore and discover new and undiscovered gems.

Nestled in the downtown of Lebanon is one such place ready for exploration.

For decades, my friends and family have known that I have hands in both the performing and visual arts communities. For the longest time, I put many of my visual arts interests on hold while exploring dance and choreography. I pursued those dance interests to obtain a Master’s degree from The Ohio State University so doggedly that a three-year commute to Columbus did not deter me. But a global pandemic that shut down dance studios and performances gave me a golden opportunity for a deep dive into collage work with paper. If I couldn’t work with dancers, scissors, and glue would be wonderful substitutes. I shared my daily progress on social media as I experimented with weaving found paper materials into wall hangings.

One day, over a year and a half ago, a dear former colleague from at Stivers School for the Arts, Lisa Benjamin Holz, reached out to me to see if I would be interested in exhibiting my work at Warren County Historical Society and Harmon Museum in Lebanon. I was honored and humbled by the offer. I did not know what to expect when I visited the facilities and met the executive director, Michael Coyan.

When I walked through the doors, I immediately sensed that I was walking into a delightful secret in Southwest Ohio. Michael took me on a tour of the entire building. Along the way, we talked about the dual function of the historical society and museum to preserve the artifacts and the rich history of Warren County and to provide a space to showcase and highlight artists from the region who are making a significant contribution to the arts.

As we made our way through each exhibition space, I was regaled with stories of the provenance of each work housed and preserved in their collection — that Michael could retain an encyclopedic memory was all the more incredible. With charm and wit, he made the space and objects come to life before my eyes. Imagine an organization that is equal parts Carrillon Park and Dayton Art Institute by way of the Smithsonian. What a wonderful introduction to the hidden cultural gems of our larger community.

The Warren County Historical Society and Harmon Museum complex is a prime example of what awaits you when you take the road less traveled. I have had many wonderful experiences in other cultural institutions in our region, like the Springfield Art Museum, The Fitton Center in Hamilton, and the Wyoming Fine Arts Center. Each one of these fine institutions, just like the Warren County Historical Society, is a quick car ride away.

As the golden, hazy days of summer turn into autumn, do yourself a favor and take a trip to Lebanon to experience firsthand the magical cultural offerings of the rural regions of Ohio.

Rodney Veal is the host of ThinkTV/CET Connect and a member of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton Board of Trustees.

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