Community Gem: Jes McMillan helps people connect through mosaics

DAYTON — In adversity, mosaics help people connect, said Jes McMillan, the founder and executive director of the Mosaic Institute.

With a mission to inspire, empower and unify through art, the nonprofit organization has involved the community as it has created six large porcelain sidewalk mosaics and dozens of glass mosaics since 2015, all in Montgomery County.

“The goal is to open a doorway where people can hear each other, and empathy can step through that door,” said McMillan, 39, of Dayton.

One of the institute’s most recent projects is the Mosaic of Hope “Together We Rise” game board, a 200-square-foot piece of art created as a partnership between several organizations and given to the Omega Community Development Corporation. The mosaic, which McMillan estimated includes up to 40,000 pieces, is at the Hope Center for Families at Omega’s Harvard Campus, 1800 Harvard Blvd. About 200 in-person volunteers helped to install it, she said.

McMillan was nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem by Meredith Florkey, who was one of the volunteers who worked on the mosaic.

“It felt good to be working on something, and working on something together,” said Florkey, of Waynesville.

The Mosaic Institute, based in South Park, was also behind the 9 Doves installation that honors the lives lost in the 2019 shooting in the Oregon District. The organization also is fundraising to create a Paul Laurence Dunbar mosaic to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth next year.

McMillan’s first solo show will open on Oct. 1 at Branch & Bone, 905 Wayne Ave., with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m.

As an artist, McMillian can visualize the final product, but it is often hard for others to do so before it is complete. The best part of the job is watching others realize what they have helped to create.

“I get to say: Look at this, look how amazing this is,” she said. “You did it.”

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