Hottest Art Exhibition of the Summer?

Fri 8/2 @ 7 – 10pm

By Josh Usmani

The 50/50 Show is easily the hottest art exhibition of the summer in Cleveland.  If you’ve never heard of it, you’re about to be let in on one of the local art community’s best (or worst) kept secrets direct from the main organizer and some of the participating artists. But first, a bit of context for anyone who may be completely unfamiliar with the show.

The 50/50 Show is a one-night-only event that is part-raffle, part-art exhibition.  Each year, organizers solicit submissions for this highly selective show.  Spots are limited because many previous artists are invited back.  The event is exciting for artists because its unique layout puts everyone (artists and potential customers) on an even playing field.  Since all the work is priced equally (and affordably) viewers with just $50 worth of expendable income have their choice of any of the 50 works (potentially).

In this way, the artists are competing for the hearts of their mutual audience.  The older, established artists might be inclined to “phone it in” on account of a guaranteed sale if it weren’t for those hungry, young, emerging artists who are willing to submit one of their best pieces just to stand out in such a large and talented crowd.   Artists who submit small, safe entries get buried in a sea of impressive work.

The show’s success and popularity stems from the excitement created by its unique characteristics.  The premise is genius in its simplicity.  50 of the top local and regional artists are selected to each submit one work.  Each piece is agreed to be priced at $50 with the organizers taking a standard commission to cover the various expenses of such a large scale event.  Artists agree to this bargain-basement price point to allow anyone who loves their work an opportunity to purchase it.

In a typical gallery setting, the whole show (or at least the most popular works) could potentially sell out in the first hour.  However, The 50/50 Show’s most innovative and unique feature is its purchase policy.  You can’t buy anything…until you win it at the end of the night.  On the wall next to each work is a raffle box.  Visitors fill out slips of paper with their basic information and drop them into the box of each piece they wish to purchase.  At 10pm winners are drawn from each box.  Those winners may then purchase the work and take it home with them immediately (or, better yet, head to the official after-party at Reddstone in Battery Park).

Out of 50 one-of-a-kind works, everyone is sure to fall in love with something.  It’s not often that most people in Cleveland walk into an art gallery and can afford any work in an exhibition.  Plus, the artists’ various backgrounds, mediums and styles create a diverse exhibition filled with many very different works.

Since the end of the annual May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art, there has been a gap in Cleveland’s local art community.  The annual juried exhibition served as a launchpad for young, talented, local artists.  The 50/50 Show offers this generation’s emerging artists an opportunity for a similar level of exposure and opportunity… and their fans an opportunity to own their work.

So what makes some of the area’s top established and emerging artists feel compelled to basically give away a piece of art for less than the cost of the gas between drop-off and the reception and their supplies?  And how does the show bring in such huge crowds, enthusiastically eager to buy art, often for the very first time?

Marty Geramita, the show’s co-founder and main organizer, sat down to answer these questions and more.

Cool Cleveland: The 50/50 Show has become the biggest, most successful recurring art exhibition in Cleveland. How did it start? Did you have an epiphany one day or was this a collaborative effort that developed over time?

Marty Geramita: My old partner at 1300 Gallery, Michael Parks, and I wanted to develop an art show that everyone could understand.  One that everyone felt comfortable coming to, was affordable and, more than anything, was fun.  We felt the success of the gallery depended on educating the average everyday person about art and getting them interested in collecting it.

What most galleries don’t understand is you never have to market to an art fan — they will come out regardless — but if you can be the first gallery or artist to reach a new art lover then they usually will support and remember you in the future.  We still get tons of people telling us that the 5050 Show was the first piece of art they ever purchased.  The last couple years The 5050 Show has been a collaborative effort with Six Marketing; they are easily what made it great last year.  A show of this size needs a team of people working on it and without the help of Six I don’t think I could pull it off.

What kind of criteria do you use when selecting the artists?  Has the criteria changed at all as the shows have become more successful each year?

Not really; we try to stick mostly with established artists and then mix in some newcomers that we feel have a bright future.  It always ended up being the perfect show to see how people felt about certain artists’ works and how a future show of theirs may go over in our gallery at the time.  It was kind of like training camp… haha.

As many readers may be aware, this year’s show was postponed from July 12th to August 2nd.  Can you tell us what factors lead to this decision and take us through your decision-making process?

We had some sponsors come on board. Sponsors are a big part of making this show successful. There is a fixed amount of revenue you can make on a show like this, so having help with the costs is important. And it also gave us more time to come up with unique promotional vehicles to get the word out.

The show is returning to 78th St. Studios this year after a very successful event last year in the basement of The Dredger’s Union clothing store on E. 4th.  What has 78th St. Studios meant to both the 50/50 Show and you personally over the years?  Do you anticipate the venue changing again in the future?

When we saw the Dredgers space we just couldn’t say no; it was an absolutely amazing space.  West 78th St. is where the show was born so it kind of fits and what they’ve been able to do with this building is an amazing thing.  The show has become so big that its hard to find any spaces that can actually accommodate it but if the right space pops up that we feel could work I’m sure we would entertain it.

Speaking of the future, you’ve been doing these shows for almost a decade.  You have a lot of other things going on.  Can you let us in on any plans for the 50/50 Show moving forward?  Do you see it continuing indefinitely or do you just take it a year at a time?

Because of our schedules, putting this one on has been the toughest yet, but there are no plans to stop it. At the end of the day it’s too much fun and people look to forward to it, and after it is all is said and done we enjoy doing it as much as the people enjoy coming.  We’ve had some idea to franchise it out or expand it, but then there is that ominous phrase “if ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

The show has built a reputation as one of the biggest and best art exhibitions in the region with both artists and viewers.  What is it about this particular show that makes everyone so excited to be a part of it?

The energy. Let’s face it, art shows are expected to be a little boring and this one never is.  Everyone across the board rich or poor gets a chance to own an amazing piece of art for 50 dollars.  Waiting to see if your name gets picked and getting to pull the piece off the wall and take it home that night is just downright fun.

Lastly, and off-topic, you’re also the manager of Cleveland’s own Derek Hess.  The trailer for Forced Perspective, the new documentary on Hess, has begun to pop-up online.  Are there any plans for a Cleveland screening/premiere/party?  Should we plan on seeing it at next year’s Cleveland International Film Fest?  The new digital Cinematheque?  Do you have a release date yet?

I’ve been in touch with the creator of the film and he told me he has plans to submit it to a few film festivals.  Personally, I’d love to see a screening here in Cleveland and the Cleveland International Film Fest would make it even that much better.

Dana Depew, one of Cleveland’s hardest working artists and former owner of Asterisk Gallery in Tremont, reflects:

“The 50/50 show has been an annual tradition created by Marty that began ages ago when he operated the 1300 Gallery at 78th Street. It showcases the top talent and the roster is a balance of emerging and established artists mostly from Cleveland.  As well, it offers you an opportunity to obtain one of these artists’ work for just $50 — that is usually a bar tab for an evening out with friends. It is an honor to be selected as one of the 50 participating artists. It shows Marty’s long lasting commitment to support and promote the arts from this region.”

Andy Dreamingwolf, local artist and repeat participant in The 50/50 Show, says:

“I would call The 50/50 Show more of an event than an art show.  It’s big in scope not only due to the impressive number of artists but the stellar lineups that are assembled.   I like to think this show starts those who’ve maybe never purchased original art on their way to collecting.”

Sean Burns, repeat participant and owner of Breakneck Gallery, says:

“I have always enjoyed the 50/50 show. It’s always great to see so much work by so many local artists. I feel that the price point of $50 lets artists explore and take more chances with their work while also giving patrons a chance to score great art on the cheap.”

Bob Peck, local street and gallery artist, offers his insight:

“The thing I like most about the 50/50 show is that it gives just about everyone a chance to purchase a piece of art. Cleveland’s a working class town and not a lot of people can throw down a few hundred dollars (or more) for something that is purely decorative to them. I also dig that it assembles a great cast of up-and-coming and established artists together, under one roof for the night. It ends up being as much of a party as it is a gallery show.”

Rich Cihlar, longtime participant of The 50/50 Show and former owner of The Pop Shop Gallery in Lakewood (now Breakneck), adds:

“The 50/50 show is THE show I have to be in every year.  If I could only pick one show, it’d be this one.  There’s almost a 100% guarantee that you’ll sell your piece, but it’s not about the money.  It’s about the vibe and energy that show has perpetuating it. It’s full of cool people.  You’re surrounded by some of Cleveland’s best artists, collectors/clients, and other like-minded people… and it’s all to support the arts.  Hands down this is the best party with a purpose.  I feel bad for the people who don’t make it out to the event — they’ll miss out on a great time.”

At its heart, The 50/50 Show is a celebration of art, its creators and their audience.  Most artists in Cleveland can’t afford to give away their work to everyone who loves it, but for one night, the area’s top talent rewards the people who support them — no matter the size of their budget.  By attending this show, you have an opportunity to meet the artists (your talented neighbors) and walk away with not only a high-quality work of art that you love, but a story that makes you cherish it even more.

In the name of full disclosure, I will be a participant in this year’s 50/50 Show.  I also participated last year.

The 50/50 Show takes place one night only — Fri 8/2 from 7 – 10pm at smART Space @ 78th Street Studios, 1305 w.78th St., Cleveland, OH 44115.

[Pictured, top to bottom: Work from Jeff Hulligan, Andy Dreamingwolf, Josh Usmani, Bob Peck, and Rich Cihlar]



Josh Usmani is a 27 year old local artist, curator and writer. Since 2008, his work has been featured in over 50 local and regional exhibitions.










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