Heather Leppla and her husband Phil Leppla, hiking at Huffman Dam. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Daytonian of the Week: Heather Leppla, appreciating art and the Gem City

  “If you can’t imagine Dayton without The Dayton Art Institute, then you should be a member.”

Heather Leppla would like you to visit our community treasure, the Dayton Art Institute.  

The native Australian became the member relations manager for the DAI a year ago and is passionate about the institution. 

So, what inspires Heather Leppla about her role in the community? Here’s what she said: 

What’s your current job title and duties and how did that come about? 

I am really lucky to serve as the member relations manager for The Dayton Art Institute. My primary responsibilities are to lead the general membership program for the museum. My favorite part of my work is the people. The DAI members have such a wonderful love, dedication and appreciation for the museum and its impact on the community. Hearing their stories and enhancing the program for them is a joy! 

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Heather Leppla and the team from the Dayton Art Institute at Dayton's Pride Parade. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

My transition to the museum was actually a career change. Previously I worked for a wonderful nonprofit called 4C for Children; my work with 4C was focused on providing intentional and meaningful professional development for early educators. I decided to shift my career from early childhood education into development based on an evolving interest in fundraising. I was sad to say goodbye to the education world, but thrilled to start my professional fundraising career for the museum! 

Why do you think the Dayton Art Institute is important for the community? 

I truly believe that art enriches people’s lives. Next year, the Dayton Art Institute will celebrate 100 years of providing innovative programming and world-class art to the entire Dayton region. The museum is the greatest storyteller in the region; with an encyclopedic collection that spans more than 5,000 years, every single person that walks through the door has the chance to connect with and experience stories from all over the world, making new memories that they will treasure forever. 

It brings me so much joy to see young children engaging with the art through exciting interactives and through conversation with their caregivers. Just last week I observed two young girls talking with their grandmother about the relationship between Marianne Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt in the Yousuf Karsh exhibition that runs through Sept. 16 from the Smithsonian. They were astounded that a group of people (Daughters of the American Revolution) would not let Marianne sing. Their conversation about equality and standing up for others is an example of why the museum is so important to Dayton. Art starts conversations that create a more inclusive community and encourages people to be open to experiences and values that might be foreign to them. 

Heather Leppla with her family in Sydney, Australia. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

If you were describing the DAI to an out-of-towner, what would you tell them? 

It’s a place that will not only WOW you with its grandeur and impressive collection, it will also make you feel welcome and draw emotion from you. Everything from the people who work here to the Monet hanging in the galleries will give you a sense of wonder and belonging. 

Why is it important to become a member? 

Simply put, membership is the best deal in town and is a crucial funding source for the museum. If you can’t imagine Dayton without The Dayton Art Institute, then you should be a member. If you want a year of great entertainment, a place you can have fun, and a platform to learn about yourself, art and the world, then you should be a member. Membership is extremely affordable starting at just $40 a year and pays for itself within a few visits. Membership offers great discounts on the store, Leo Bistro and on events happening at the museum. 

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Heather Leppla with her favorite animal, meerkats. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

What is your favorite artwork or area of the museum? Why? 

That’s a tough one. When I first started at the museum I honestly did not know a lot about art. As I have learned more and heard the stories behind certain pieces and about the artists I have gathered a bunch of favorites. If I had to choose just one I would say Alison Van Pelt’s portrait of Louise Nevelson. When I look at it I feel and think about the female experience, everything from physical beauty and intelligence to female oppression and the fight for equality. There is something profoundly captivating about the way Alison Van Pelt chose to portray Louise Nevelson. 

What project have you worked on that you are most proud of? 

I am currently working on two projects that will enhance the DAI’s capacity to ensure that the museum and membership are accessible to all Dayton residents. These projects make me excited to get to work each day. Stay tuned! 

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Where did you grow up? Why did you decide to stay and settle in the Dayton area? 

I am from a small town called Kempsey, which is located in New South Wales, Australia. Aussies are eager travelers and always up for adventure. This trait gave me the push to move to Columbus, Ohio, for a year so I could work and explore the USA. During that first year I met my now husband and made lasting friendships. It was these relationships, the opportunities that Dayton provided, and the vibrancy of American culture that took ahold of me. I will always consider Australia home but now I have been blessed with a new home in Dayton. 

Heather Leppla with her husband's family at the Twisted Pretzel Ride in Germanton. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years? 

I think Dayton will still have the wonderful grit and perseverance it does now but there will be more it can offer to its residents. Being a downtown Dayton resident, I get so pumped to see the yearly changes that have been happening. My husband, Phil, and I are always commenting about how exciting it is to see so many people enjoying downtown, people active in the MetroParks and getting out to experience the fantastic cultural arts and food scene. 

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What inspires you about the Dayton area? 

The people! Dayton may not be the glitziest town, with the best entertainment, and coolest geographical features, but it’s the people that pack that whoa punch. When I decided to make Dayton my home I was embraced and uplifted by the people I met. Here I have found some of my best friends, encountered the kindest and most passionate people, and have expanded my family. Dayton is inspiring. 

What’s been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge? 

I would say transitioning my career. It was scary to leave an industry that I had already committed a decade to. I was able to push through primarily because of my husband’s amazing support and the fantastic array of programs and groups throughout the region. If you ever want to reinvent yourself and aren’t afraid of hard work, Dayton has your back. Through the Women in Business Network, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and young professional groups such as Generation Dayton and the Junior League I have received meaningful mentorship, been accepted into two great leadership programs, grown my professional network, and have always been supported to take risks. The opportunities that Dayton provides is astounding! 

Heather Leppla (at right) with Mindy Wallace, DAI guest services manager (left), and Dana Sintell of the Rubi Girls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

What do you love about life in Dayton? 

It’s SUPER affordable, there is fun to be had (you just need to know where to look sometimes), and the people are fantastic. Dayton has a beautiful charm that celebrates its history, the natural resources of the area, and supports its residents. What more can you ask for?! 

What would you change about Dayton? 

I would love for all Daytonians to get out to vote. I am a permanent resident, so I don’t have the option of voting, but I try to do my part by canvassing for worthy political candidates and ballot initiatives. I truly believe that Dayton can experience even more positive change, for every single Dayton resident if everyone took the time to vote and learn about the issues. It has been quite an ongoing educational experience learning the political landscape and government structure of the U.S. I have been blessed that I am surrounded by a vast number of civically and politically engaged people, particularly my husband and his family. 

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What should people know about Daytonians and the city? 

That is a no brainer — Dayton is a hub for innovation and a home for everyone! If you have not been to places like Carillon Park, the Air Force Museum, and Dayton Visual Arts Center, you need to go ASAP. I am continually surprised by the sheer determination, inventiveness, and creativity of Daytonians. This city works hard to make Dayton a place all feel welcome and supported. Of course, there is more to be done and done better, but overall programs like Welcome Dayton, UpDayton, and Dayton Area Solar Co-ops, when combined with the wonderful people in our community, make Dayton a great place to live, play, and grow. 

 What superpower would you love to have? 

I would love to be able to teleport myself ... like Star Trek! This would make living away from Australia no problem at all. Also, Phil and I are travel lovers, so we would be popping in and out of places across the world every day. I wish this was real! 

Describe your perfect Dayton date. What would you do? 

Oh this is tough as it would depend on who I am taking on a Dayton date. With my husband, I would say a perfect Dayton date would include dinner at a downtown restaurant, a stroll along RiverScape, a cocktail at one of our favorite bars, and then end the evening sitting around a firepit with our awesome neighbors and friends! 

What Dayton area food do you love? 

The Dayton food scene is lit! I love Siam Pad Thai, wings from Lock 27, sushi from Fusian & DLM, everything sold at Second Street Market, pizza from Wheat Penny and Old Scratch, risotto from Roost, and every menu item from Corner Kitchen. I love food! 

In terms of boozy treats, you will find me sipping French 75’s or bourbon neat at Century, Cosmo’s at Wheat Penny, or Ciders from Barrel House!

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