Artist Lauren Davies started hearing whispers about gallery owner William Busta's retirement back in January. At an installation of her work, some artists were buzzing about a newspaper article that had come out the day before announcing he would be closing the doors on the William Busta Gallery.
During Busta's 26-year career, his galleries served as launch pads for local artists such as Don Harvey, Brinsley Tyrrell and Derek Hess. And Davies didn't want to see the Prospect Avenue landmark shutter its doors.
So over dinner, Davies and her brother, Independence entrepreneur John Davies, discussed stepping in to save it.
"We didn't want to let this cultural institution go away," says Lauren, a sculptor, mixed-media artist and curator in her hometown of San Francisco before moving here to be with family. "Making a commitment to the cultural life of Cleveland is the kind of work I love doing."
Ten days later, the two were in talks with Busta and the building's landlord. Busta announced the sale in March, and Lauren and John took over the space as the renamed 2731 Prospect Gallery Aug. 1.
"I have about 16 core artists that I show about every two years, and I tried to get all of those people in during this last season," says Busta. "In the first seven months of this year, we've had more shows open, published as many brochures and sold as much art as we would have over an entire year. It's been fun, but I'm exhausted."
Lauren will continue to work with some of the artists Busta featured in the gallery, but she also hopes to explore her own passions by featuring more photography, sculpture and artists from outside Northeast Ohio.
"I'd like to see it become more of a regional hub," says Lauren. "We want to broaden our audience through lectures and events that would bring in people who may not normally visit an art gallery."
Her grand opening show Sept. 18 makes such a statement by pairing Cleveland native and recent Cleveland Art Prize winner Michelangelo Lovelace with two New York-based photographers, Donald Mengay and Hrvoje Slovenc. Lovelace's visceral artistic depictions of a city dealing with poverty, drugs and violence yet striving for community are paired with the photographers' more polished and abstract overview of urban decay.
After 26 years of opening his doors to some of Cleveland's most prolific artists, William Busta is closing them for the last time.
I started showing Derek Hess' work [in 1990] when he was still a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art. He was doing stone lithographs. It would take him six months to do a complex print. We'd try to sell them for $350 a piece, and maybe we'd sell a couple a year. We did this for years. But then he started going to the silk-screened [concert] posters for shows, and then he just took off. He finally saved up for his own show, and not many knew who he was yet, but there was a line out the door and down the street to buy his work. Half the people had no idea who the bands were, but they bought all his work because the stuff that was on these posters was just so overwhelming and amazing.
I offered encouragement during the times when these people needed to build confidence. That's one of the things a gallery can do. It doesn't take much to encourage an artist, and I tried to create a structure where I believed an artist could do their best work. — as told to Andrew Poulsen
William Busta guides us through his gallery highlights.
1989 Hosts his first show with Don Harvey. "The first six people I called all said no. I was getting kind of shell shocked, but then I called up Don. He really threw his credibility behind the gallery, because after him, everyone started saying yes."
2008 Displays Brinsley Tyrrell's Ohio Lands Forever. "There was this steel enamel machine from the '40s at Kent State. Everyone was waiting for someone to make use out of it, and Brinsley made this brilliant series of 100 3-by-4-foot enamels."
2011 Hosts Andrea Joki's Crossing exhibit, her first with Busta after being awarded the Creative Workshop Fellowship by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. "I think [the fellowship] gave her the ability to really leap forward and reach a new level with her work."
March 2015 Asks Douglas Max Utter for a 3,000-word artist statement for his Timelines exhibit rather than the typical 500 for the catalog. "[It] allowed him to put together a really tight show by focusing in on what his work was about," Busta says. "I think it was one of the most spectacular shows of his life."
June 2015 Shows Tombs and Toilets, one of the gallery's final exhibits by longtime artist Mary Jo Bole.