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Meet Gary Dangel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gary Dangel.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I spent my career as a graphic design/creative director. I retired early & spent more than a decade on self-directed creative projects – photography, drawing & writing. One of my daily practices was to take morning walks in the woods to be with the plants & animals. I’d forgotten, during my work years, how necessary nature was to my mental & spiritual well-being.

In 2013, after a multi-generational decline, my neighborhood of Walnut Hills started to come alive again. I wanted to be part of that resurgence & wondered how I might contribute. I noticed that there was a large number of abandoned & blighted lots; I began imagining what they might become. Fate intervened when I attended Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s Vacant Lots: Occupied workshop. These sessions revealed how to work with partners, listen to the needs of my neighbors & build something of lasting benefit.

I began by enlisting the aid of many people & organizations to help build a new park, gardens & foraging orchards in 45206. My retirement ended abruptly in 2017 when a family trust noticed this greenspace & community engagement work. They funded the project & I was hired by the local community development corporation, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Soon after I was hired, Kroger announced they were closing our only grocery. The residents of Walnut Hills suddenly found themselves living in a food desert. My job description now included improving food access for those experiencing food insecurity.

We’re working to attract a smaller, local grocery that will offer affordable and culturally-appropriate food for our community. At the same time, we’ve joined with a great group of people & organizations to create eight growing sites in the Grow 06 urban agriculture network. The harvests feed gardeners and garden volunteers as well as clients at Queen City Kitchen pantry, Church of the Advent’s Open Door food pantry & free, pop-up produce markets.

And just when everything was humming along, COVID-19 arrived! This piled additional burdens onto our underserved residents. We dramatically expanded our Friday Food + Fun event to address the increased lack of access to affordable and convenient healthy food.

Our incredible partners have stepped up to improve the daily life of Walnut Hills residents:
Black Power Initiative, Center for Closing the Health Gap, Church of the Advent, Cincinnati Health Department, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Cincinnati Office of Environment & Sustainability, Civic Garden Center, DAMPE School, Equitas Health, Freestore Foodbank – Healthy Harvest Mobile Market, Found Village, Frederick Douglass Elementary, Green Umbrella, HGC Construction, Hamilton County R3Sourse, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, La Soupe, Produce Perks Midwest, Queen City Commons, Queen Mother’s Market, Regional Food Policy Council, UC | Christ Hospital Family Medicine, Vitality Cincinnati & many individual volunteers.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I’ve always loved to draw. When Fireside Pizza opened in 2016, neighbors would meet there for Craft Night. Some people sewed, other fabric artists did needlepoint. Not being attracted to either, I grabbed the material at hand – paper plates. Each week for one year, I spent one hour drawing some random, absurd thought. I found drawing in public to be nearly as frightening as public speaking. But I became less concerned about the finished product and more able to simply enjoy the social & creative experience. And in order to have no attachment to the final product, I’d leave the drawings on the community table. Later I discovered that Kathryne G was collecting them & displaying them in her salon. So much for being unattached.

I continue to draw every day & will be exhibiting new work with my good friend & fellow artist, Tom S. at Gallery Askew opening Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
I believe risk-taking is essential to the creative process. Painter Mark Rothko said, “Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.”

I’ve taken calculated risks when I felt it was crucial. I quit my stable job to start my design studio because I needed a creative challenge. My only regrets come from risks that I failed to take.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Yolanda Hill

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1 Comment

  1. Tom Shelton

    February 2, 2022 at 11:52 pm

    What Gary says is all true. every bit of it. It’s an amazing transformation that has taken place. Seven or eight years ago, except maybe for some old car parked differently from the day before, you wouldn’t know anybody lived in that house of his. From a scared hermit who went grocery shopping at 3 AM so as not to encounter people, to an involved, caring, friendly, gregarious person fully engaged with his community is not a change his friends (he had two) would have believed a realistic possibility. For the person of that time to attend his first neighborhood meeting was to take a huge risk. And that’s how it started. To talk to Gary today is a joy. I am the mysterious “Tom S.” that Gary referred to who is going to be having an art show with him opening at the Askew Gallery on Colerain Avenue in May.

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