By Josh Usmani
Since 2008, in honor of Women’s History Month, Lakeland Community College’s gallery coordinator, Mary Urbas, has organized seven From WOMAN exhibitions — featuring hundreds of local, regional and national female artists working in just about every possible media. This year, From WOMAN expands outside Lakeland. Urbas has organized a month-long, regional, collaborative effort, consisting of 16 area galleries and hundreds of local and regional female artists. You can read more about all the festivities here.
Despite a tight installation schedule, Urbas took time out of her busy schedule to talk about this landmark event.
Cool Cleveland: How did From WOMAN first come about?
Mary Urbas: I wanted to create a new venue for local and regional women artists, to come together, to exhibit their artworks that were created by women, of women and about women. I was originally inspired by the Guerilla Girls, based out of New York City. They wrote a manifesto about the advantages of being a woman artist. I have it hanging in my office. Underneath all the sarcasm was the underlying truth. Throughout history, women artist have not been as well promoted and/or represented as their male counterparts. I am a woman gallery director, who curates exhibitions. I wanted to take advantage of my situation and promote the work of my talented artist friends.
How has the show evolved over the years?
What started out as an exhibition that included local and regional women artists, has evolved into an annual exhibition that features women from all over the United States. I have been in the gallery business for over 35 years and have accumulated an extensive list of artists that I have dealt with. My artist friends also share their contacts. This year I am featuring the work of 38 local, regional and national artists. Over the past 7 years, I have exhibited artworks created by more than 100 artists, and have installed thousands of artworks.
What inspired the idea for this city-wide collaboration?
I came up the collaboration idea, during a “light bulb” moment, maybe 6 months ago. It made sense to work together with my gallery colleagues, to help market and promote each other’s galleries and our artists. It was a way to make the connections between us stronger. If the artists succeed, the galleries succeed. It’s a win, win situation.
Quite a few of my gallery owner/director/manager friends are women. They were familiar with my annual tribute to women artists, now in its 7th incarnation. Many show their own work, and the art of other female artists. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to coordinate all of our efforts. There’s that “power in numbers”.
I also wanted to help some lesser known galleries gain some recognition and increase their visibility. If I created a directory of the participating galleries, art centers and studios, the viewing public could easily maneuver throughout the various locations; and experience the joy and excitement of discovering new artists and galleries.
How did the other galleries initially react to the idea?
Everyone thought it was a great idea. I also contacted some community art centers and artists who have studios that have public access. It was all positive.
This is a huge project to oversee. Did the galleries choose their own artists, or did you work with them to select the roster? What was the overall process like? How long have you been working out the logistics?
The project is HUGE, but it’s something I could manage and coordinate. I did it because I Can… If I CAN, I MUST!
The galleries curated and organized their own exhibitions. Gallery directors and curators have their own vision(s) that they want to see materialize. I also curated the exhibition “Three Visions” at Negative Space Gallery, located in Asia Town Center, featuring the work of Marilyn Szalay, Jaymi Zents and Lisa Kenion.
I work on the logistics for my “from WOMAN” exhibition all year long. I am constantly checking out galleries and exhibitions; visiting artists in their studios, so I can have a finger on the pulse… seeing who’s exhibiting what, where.
Is this a one-time-only collaboration, or do you envision something like this becoming a regular, city-wide event?
This is the first, (I hope) of many future collaborations. I envision this as a building year for this gallery tour, art walk event. It would be wonderful if more venues were added and could participate… so that folks could spend the month of March, seeing great artworks created by women, and meet these artists at the receptions. There are so many women artists living, working and showing their art in Northeast Ohio. This wealth of resources is inspiring! I work years in advance, and am currently scheduling into 2018. I love introducing new artists to our region.
[Pictured: Artwork from Olivia App]