Phyllis Schmidt

Phyllis Schmidt

Becoming Involved in the Arts in Yellow Springs

In the 1970’s, many of the organizations in town were loosely formed and run by volunteers. For a long time the Yellow Springs Arts Council functioned that way. When Phyllis Schmidt had just moved to town, she remembered a friend saying, “If you want to be left alone in YS, just move into your house. But if you want to get involved with the community and you are interested in something, like blue speckled grackles, all you have to do is put a note in the paper inviting others to join you at 4 am at the bird blind in Glen Helen…and 14 people will show up.”

Phyllis wanted to do something with the arts in the village. She had graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in fine art, but her love was interior design. She joined the Arts Council, which was then meeting on the second floor of the old Bryan High School. The building had just been designated as the “John Bryan Community Center” and was starting to be used for all sorts of art, theater and recreation classes. It looked like an old, abandoned high school, with dark hallways lined with miles of beat up lockers. Phyllis would walk along the hallways on her way to Arts Council meetings and think, “This building is grim, grim, grim.”

Phyllis asked the Village’s Parks and Recreation Department, which was located on the first floor of the Bryan building, if there was any way something could be done to help the building. She was a self-starter and doer, and while there was no personnel, paid time, or budget for such a project, Phyllis was able to negotiate an agreement. The director of Parks and Rec provided cans of paint in exchange for Phyllis’ artistic services.

Magic always begins with the words “what if?” and Phyllis had an idea to transform the John Bryan Community Center. Influenced by the bold graphic artwork of Robert Indiana, Phyllis wondered “What if we put floor to ceiling super graphics along the walls?” She imagined letters so big that it would take a whole hallway to spell out “John Bryan”. The designs would camouflage all the lockers and bring light into the dark hallways. For several hours each day, over a period of months, Phyllis made this idea into a reality.

Phyllis drew the humongous letters, one by one, using the vertical lines of the lockers for her guide. Day after day she would climb the ladder and paint—a Danish blue for the background and bright white for the letters. Light began flooding into the halls. The words “John Bryan”, large and bold, were proudly stretched from one end of the hallways to the other and even around the corner. The lockers disappeared into the blue of the trompe l’oeil.

Then one day, she was done…or was she? The upstairs halls looked pretty drab too, but by now her creative energy was fairly spent. She called upon her friends Phil and Frankie Roupp to spread the word that help was needed. One Saturday, twenty-four people showed up with brushes in hand. Phyllis drew the graphics and they painted, completing the second floor and bringing the new community center to life!

Phyllis says it was all very satisfying, but what she really loves is that all these people were motivated by a sense of service to the village and a willingness to give their time and talent for the common good. These were not people who necessarily used the art classes or recreation services of the John Bryan Center, even Phyllis never used the building other than as a big canvas. These volunteers all just wanted to make it a better place. And they had fun doing it!

Posted by ysartsadmin