Maria Neil Art Project on Waterloo Is Closing Doors But Opening New Window of Opportunity

After four years and about 30 exhibitions, co-owners John Farina and Adam Tully are closing Maria Neil Art Project’s Waterloo gallery. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Bivens)

For the last four years, Maria Neil Art Project’s Waterloo gallery provided a fresh breath of air into the Northeast Ohio arts scene.

Avid art collectors and patrons John Farina and Adam Tully viewed their venue as an all-inclusive space where unrepresented and underrepresented artists could show off their work. Sadly, the married couple has decided to close the gallery; however, that doesn’t mean you’ve seen the last of the Maria Neil Art Project. CoolCleveland talked to Farina and Tully about the decision and the future.

CoolCleveland: So tell us, what led to your decision to close the Maria Neil Art Project’s Waterloo gallery?

John Farina: The Maria Neil Art Project physical gallery space is closing at the end of this exhibition on October 14, but the organization will remain intact and working forward from this point on as a slightly different entity. We’ve been there for four years, and we’ve done about 30 exhibitions in that space. We needed to do the physical gallery in order to help establish some credibility with what we can do, how we can do it and the artists we can work with. But then as time marched on, the gallery business is not an easy business to be in Cleveland. Despite what people might think, it’s not a huge moneymaker. With Adam and I both maintaining full-time jobs (Farina is a nonprofit and political consultant; Tully is a children’s librarian at the Collinwood branch of Cleveland Public Library) outside of running the gallery, it’s become harder and harder to maintain the financial side.

CC: How hard was it to come to this decision? And did you feel a sense of relief removing the burden from your shoulders?

Adam Tully: We did not come to the decision lightly. Given what we have going on in the future, the time and energy and the money could be better committed to doing something different than what we’re doing now. So it’s really a farewell for now because the bricks and mortar space is closing, but we’re still doing things around Waterloo. So it’s a relief that we don’t have to commit ourselves to being there every single weekend.

CC: Looking back, do you feel like you were naïve at all or did you know exactly what you were getting yourself into?

JF: I don’t think we were naïve going into it having many friends in the gallery business, having been around the arts community for a long time. I would say I was pretty familiar with what to expect, and it maybe was a little tougher than I thought it might have been at first, but we certainly knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

CC: What did you learn about having your own gallery?

AT: We’ve always tried to promote and really shed a light on artists that people wouldn’t normally get to see, whether that was an artist that hadn’t had a show in over a decade and needed to be reintroduced or a student whose work we thought was very strong and needed that first commercial opportunity. We’ve always prided ourselves on curating very strong shows that have either a purpose or a social cause. We’ve shown a lot of African-American artists, women artists and a couple of LGBT artists. And that’s something we like highlighting because we don’t think that a lot of that is noticeable in the gallery scene. Cleveland is still not keen on properly valuing an artist’s time and energy, as far as what they expect in paying for their works. And we’ve over the last couple of years, especially with having this gallery, have really tried to educate the buying population that the price for that work is justifiable.

CC: Finally, what’s the future hold for the next chapter of the Maria Neil Art Project?

JF: Maria Neil first started showing art in places you might not expect — restaurants, offices and things like that. So now we’re going to continue that process and do pop-up shows. Instead of doing a six-week long exhibition, we’ll be doing exhibitions that are much shorter in the time. Or maybe in venues that will allow us a longer exhibition but we don’t have to staff it. We just did a three-day exhibition of 11 artists at the Ingenuity Festival. We’ll do showings at other galleries around town. There’s lots of galleries that don’t have their own curators, who use guest curators. And we’ll do shows for some of those locations. You might see us pop up in a coffee shop. There are a few spaces here on Waterloo that we’ll continue to work with to show art in this neighborhood. So we’re not abandoning the Waterloo neighborhood. We’re still remaining very committed to it. So it’s just art exhibition on the move, if you will, as opposed to sitting in one static space.

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