The Church of Art, Founded by Artist Loren Naji to “Worship Creativity,” Opens Off Waterloo

Sat 6/30 @ noon-7PM

A new art space is coming to the Waterloo Arts District.

OK, it’s an OLD art space with a brand new look, vibe and mission — and a very ambitious mission at that.

About four years ago, local artist Loren Naji acquired a house on East 156th between Waterloo and the freeway, painted it silver, put in round porthole-like windows and dubbed it the Satellite Installation Gallery. For three years it was run by curator-in-residence Grace Wen, who put together quarterly shows of installation art.

But when Wen moved on to another job at the end of last year, Naji felt it was the ideal time to reinvent the space.

“I thought it would be nice to make it more open and celebrate creativity in a more open way,” he says. “Music, poetry, writing, theater, cooking — there are so many arts in this world, and in this society, things are blending anyway. I wanted a space where we could blend things. I thought I would get together a group of people who were in to that.”

So he came up with a new name: the Church of Art, which he says “is three things: a gallery space, a group and an ideology.”

“We worship creativity rather than a Creator,” he says. “That’s what makes us human, that’s my belief, and all of us possess creativity, not just some of us.”

The core Church of Art team besides Naji is artist and longtime Naji collaborator Tina Ripley and recent Kent State grads/painting majors Joshua Bentley and Megan Schimmoeller. They meet once a week to brainstorm idea for this work in progress.

“We’re just in the idea stage; there’s not a lot of exactness,” he says.

Currently, they have three things on the drawing board. One is the reopening of Satellite Gallery as the Church of Art, which will take place during the Waterloo Arts Fest (Naji says they’ll likely be open after the festival closes so plan to make it your last stop and hang out). Dubbed Resurrection: The Church of Art Invitational, it’s not an “invitational” at all. It features the work of any artist who wants to stop by and add their contribution to the walls — paint, drawing, decoupage, whatever.

“It will become a permanent background like wallpaper,” explains Naji. “This is our gallery backdrop, challenging the white walls of galleries. We believe art can be everywhere. This is a sort of statement about that. We’ll hang future shows over this art as if it wasn’t there. The art will have background it has to compete with or not compete, or blend in with.”

The second event will take place during Rooms to Let CLE in Slavic Village. The Church of Art has acquired use of a garage they’ll turn into an art gallery, open to any artist who wants to participate.

“We calling it the CAN’T Triennial,” he says, playing off the CAN Triennial for local artists taking place at 78th Street Studios in July, which features 90 of the approximately 600 artists who applied. “Our tagline is you can’t be rejected from CAN’T. It’s a statement that we are really representing Cleveland artists.”

The third event will be at an outdoor location in October or November; the details haven’t been worked out but Naji assures us that “it’s going to be a very edgy show.”

The Church of Art mixes both a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a serious commitment to challenging some of the staler aspects of the art scene.

“I like to poke fun at things,” says Naji. “I like things not to be so serious and pretentious. I don’t think anyone in this world is so great that they have any business being pretentious. We all have unique talents and skills that make us equal. In my art life growing up, I’ve noticed artists trying appear bohemian and not into materialistic things. But the same artists want to be famous and have their paintings sold for millions of dollars. It’s hero worship. You might as well buy a basketball signed by LeBron James. You’re not buying the basketball, you’re buying his signature.”

But even while taking his pokes at the art establishment, juried shows and events such as the Can Triennial, he’s serious about encouraging art-making and creativity, and being open to input from whoever shows up.

“We’re against the idea of competitiveness,” he says. “Who has the authority to say this is a better piece than that piece? It’s not a sporting event. It’s about the appreciation of aesthetics and beauty. We don’t have contests or prize money.”

“We want our ideas to stand out, to be something unique and different and new,” he continues. “We want to answer the question, what’s next in art?” He laughs as he explains that he borrowed the tagline from Jens Hoffman, originally scheduled to be on of the co-curators of this summers FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art before accusations of sexual harassment came out against him.

“That’s sort of our tagline, our goal. Art seems to expand to become more open, more inclusive. One time it was sculpture and painting, then photography was accepted as art. Now photography is art and so is video. You think everything’s been done and what can be done more. But then a new thing comes along. We as the church of art intend to find that new thing. We intend to celebrate the creativity of all people and enjoy it as people enjoy food.”


[Written by Anastasia Pantsios]

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