Last week, Lauren Davies received the keys to the gallery formerly known as William Busta Gallery. Now known simply as 2731 Prospect (its address), the gallery will officially open its doors with a grand opening reception on Friday, Sept. 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. Taking time away from her preparations, Davies recently introduce herself to the readers of Scene, and offered insight into what the future holds for 2731 Prospect.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were up to before Bill Busta announced you would be taking over his gallery?
I moved to Cleveland about two and a half years ago after spending my entire adult life in San Francisco. I went to the San Francisco Art Institute and received my MFA in sculpture. I've maintained a studio practice over the long haul and have continued to show my work in a variety of nonprofit and institutional venues in California plus some gallery shows and artist residencies.
The summary of that 12-year experience is that I really enjoyed working with a variety of artists in peer-relationship situations. Together we strategized on their residency studio projects, gallery exhibitions and artists' talks. It was a great opportunity to understand their artistic and personal background, their thinking and their studio practice. It was a major learning experience that has fostered some important personal and professional relationships.
When did you begin talking to Bill Busta about taking over his space? How did the whole thing manifest itself?
I heard about Bill closing the gallery while I was working with some other artists installing our photo show at FORUM Artspace back in January. The Steve Litt (Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com) story had just appeared the day before. We were discussing it as a group of artists. What did this closure mean? Surely, the loss of a major opportunity for artists in the region. Depressing news.
It struck me that the Cleveland institutions are completely top notch. Cleveland Museum of Art, MOCA, Transformer Station, SPACES are all doing great work. But where do people who live here actually show their work? There's a number of people making an effort, running small galleries, pop-ups, storefront spaces. But that next professional level — Bill Busta's — that was closing. To me, the lack of viable opportunities for artists loses artists to other locations. Does Cleveland, the arts community and its supporters not care? It was really tragic if nobody stepped up.
I mentioned this to my brother, who is an entrepreneur. He agreed that it was unfortunate. A week later, he said, 'Let's call Bill. Maybe we should try to save this gallery.'
That's my brother; he called Bill two minutes later to set up a meeting. He felt between his business experience and my art world experience, maybe we could give it a try and see if we could make a difference in the arts community. He called Bill, we went down to the gallery a few days later for the first meeting and our discussions and plans have gone smoothly since Day 1.
Robert Bostwick, the architect and property landlord, seems delighted that the gallery will continue. Bill Busta and his wife Joan Tomkins have been wonderful to work with as this transition took place.
A very touching moment was at Bill's closing party at the gallery. He had a tiny copper plate made with my family's name and the new gallery's name on it, and he presented it to me and I ceremoniously hammered it into the gallery's floor. A lovely gesture.
Can you tell us about the first show in September?
The first show will feature new work by Cleveland's Michelangelo Lovelace in one gallery and in the other gallery there will be a collaborative photographic project by Donald Mengay and Hrovje Slovenc who are from New York.
Michelangelo Lovelace's show is titled Good People with Bad Habits. He recently received the Cleveland Art Prize and is included in the current show at MOCA, How to Remain Human.
The New York collaborative team of Mengay and Slovenc will be presenting an architectural photo-documentary project they shot in Cleveland that focuses on industrial decline and its economic ramifications in a show titled Brick and Bones.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, at 2 p.m. there will be a panel discussion with the three artists moderated by an architect/urban planner. Although these are two independent exhibitions, both projects comment on various aspects of life in Cleveland. The event is free and open to the public.
Just to mention a few upcoming 2016 exhibitions, the gallery will be showing the winners of an international photography competition juried by Laura Bidwell and others in the spring of 2016. Also, look for a really exciting solo show by internationally known print artist, Endi Poskovic, who lives and teaches in Ann Arbor.
The gallery is kind of on an island; it isn't in one of Cleveland's rebranded neighborhoods like Waterloo or Hingetown. Do you plan to partner with any other artists, organizations or institutions to connect with other parts of the community?
Not being a born and bred Clevelander, many people have pointed out to me that the key attribute of the gallery's location is that there is ample parking and it's an easy mid-point stopover between the west side and the east side. I hope to continue Bill's vibe by maintaining the gallery as a friendly, go-to location. I want people to feel welcome to visit, hang out and discover something new. Just park out front and drop in!
In terms of partnering, let me say that coming from a nonprofit background, partnering, alliances, sharing and fostering mutually beneficial opportunities are key issues. Each exhibition will be accompanied by at least one public event that hopefully draws gallery visitors from a community that might not have visited our gallery before. We really want to expand our audience with public events and engagement with the artists. The artists want dialog with the community and hope to deliver that at 2731 Prospect.
Additionally, I'm involved with other Cleveland arts institutions and organizations by my participation on a variety of committees, programming groups, fundraisers, portfolio reviews, exhibition jurying, etc.
Will you be exhibiting your own work in the gallery or anywhere else around town?
Definitely not at 2731 Prospect. I will continue to look for exhibition opportunities and grants like every other artist.
I am happy to say that I will be presenting new work in a group exhibition at SPACES titled The Peoples' Museum of Revisionists Natural Itstory. This is a collaborative project with a team of artists from around the country collectively exploring natural history museum presentations. The show opens in November.