Giving It Their All: How Cerulean Arts Gallery and Studio Is Fighting Their Way Through Covid-19
"We’ve given everything we’ve got to our gallery over the last 14 years and so we’re determined to make it through."
Tina Rocha and Michael Kowbuz, Owners of Cerulean Arts Gallery and Studio
Galleries are places in the marketplace where artists and art lovers go for the sharing and selling of artwork. They are small businesses that are closed due to the pandemic. Recently, I got in touch with one of my favorite spots, Cerulean Arts Gallery and Studio. Cerulean Arts and its owners, Tina Rocha and Michael Kowbuz, have helped thousands of artists throughout the years. The gallery exhibits artwork and crafts, hosts Artists' Talks and exchanges, offers classes taught by professionals on traditional and new techniques of art-making, and once a year a Juried Exhibition where work is selected by a renown artist or arts professional. Needless to say, like many artists, I miss stopping in to take a look at the work, find something that I didn't even know I wanted to buy, and have a chat with Tina, Michael, and Cory. Like most people, I follow them on social media but still wonder-- how is everyone managing?
I thought I would start with a very ordinary question, but one everyone wants to know. How are you all—Tina, Michael, Cory—doing? What programs and projects are you up to?
We are grateful to be well. We sure miss seeing everyone in person but we’re doing what we can to keep Cerulean Arts and our artists’ works available online. Once the gallery was required to close, the main project was to photograph the entire gallery as a visitor would see it. Our website always has artwork and handmade items available to view and purchase but the images are of individual items. I hope the installation shots of exhibitions and vignettes of our shelf displays help provide the additional context that a visit to our gallery would offer.
When last we met, you all were putting together the finishing touches for the opening for the Cerulean Arts Collective Members’ Gallery and for the Artist Talk for The Stillness of the City: Daina Higgins, Shushana Rucker, Sophie White, Martha Wirkijowski. Were you surprised by the shutdown? Have you heard from the artists involved?
We were disappointed to cancel the Artists’ Talk for The Stillness of the City and the reception for the Collective Members that had been scheduled for March 14. We were in touch that week with all artists involved to weigh each of their perspectives on the matter. We were fortunate to have three weeks for The Stillness of the City exhibition before the
mandated closure and we hope to work with all four artists again in the future. The five solo exhibitions by Collective Members Kassem Amoudi, Ronnie Bookbinder, Fran Gallun, Charles Kalick & Kathleen McSherry will remain on display for two weeks after we are allowed to reopen. None of our upcoming exhibitions will be cancelled, just postponed on a modified schedule.
Presently, the main gallery has the exhibition Hinterlands: Margo Tassi and Thomas Porett featuring paintings and ink pigment prints. It followed The Stillness of the City but because of the shutdown was also unable to have an opening. The artworks you have been posting online for this show are wonderful-- such a burst of Nature and color! Will I be able to visit these when the gallery re-opens, too?
As we installed it after the shut down, Hinterlands will remain on display for three weeks after Cerulean Arts re-opens. It is difficult since we don't have a date to reopen.
Some of the artists from the Cerulean Arts Collective whose shows are on hold—Kassem Amoudi, Fran Gallun, Ronnie Bookbinder, Kathleen McSherry, Janice Merendino, Caroline Furr, and Thomas Porett now in Hinterlands with Margo Tassi -- were featured in the beautiful video series, "Art in the Time of Pandemic" by John Thornton. I really enjoyed them. How did this idea come into being? What was your involvement?
John Thornton is a terrific videographer who has produced films for so many artists. Fran Gallun had already arranged prior to the outbreak to have John film her exhibition during the reception. Even though the reception was cancelled, Fran provided the content for the video from her studio to make a fantastic video. John then extended an incredibly generous offer to create a video for any artist whose exhibition has been impacted by the pandemic at no cost. Our only involvement has been to let artists know about this offer and in some cases provide exhibition photographs.
You have been quite busy with marketing for Cerulean Arts and for its artists on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I have to say that the images you are posting are stunning! Are there any other platforms you are using or places where we can find the work and objects? Also, what are some of the other promotional devices you may be using? Are there any specific promotions, gift cards, etc.? And what is the best way for people to purchase through any of these platforms?
I’m glad you’re enjoying the images – it’s a testament to the beautiful work by our artists. Every work of art or handmade item is available through our website: https://ceruleanarts.com/collections/.
Our Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/ceruleanartsgallery/ ) and Instagram ( @cerulean.arts)accounts are directly linked to our website, so purchases can be made through all three platforms.
We’ve recently started offering online gift cards which can also be purchased through our website: https://ceruleanarts.com/products/gift-card . Cerulean Arts is also on Pinterest and I post frequently to LinkedIn.
We have all been hearing about relief efforts for artists and small businesses. As gallery owners and artists, you have unique perspective on this. What has been your experience? I know the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the Office of Arts and the Creative Economy (OACCE), and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF) are all discussing Covid-19 funds. Are any of these something in which you have interest or to which you will be alerted if they become available?
The first two weeks after we closed were occupied with nothing but completing applications to the various relief efforts – 9 total. Art galleries that are small businesses were not eligible for the Covid-19 Arts Aid PHL, so that is not among those to which we applied. Unfortunately, we haven’t been very successful. The one exception was a small grant from our neighborhood business association to help pay a portion of our insurance expense while we’re closed.
Has Cerulean Arts opened a “Go Fund Me” page or other fundraising instrument? Does Cerulean Arts have a “Donate” button where folks who care can give to help while you are closed? After all, you still have bills to pay!
We haven’t begun any fundraising efforts.
While we don’t have a “Donate” button, buying a gift card for someone is great way people can help while we’re closed.
We’re happy to give something back in return for their support!
Is there anything else people should be aware of as far as the impact of Covid-19 and quarantine on Cerulean Arts? What are your thoughts of the future?
I came across an article last week that was quite bleak for art galleries: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/galleries-face-70-income-crash-due-to-the-coronavirus We’ve given everything we’ve got to our gallery over the last 14 years and so we’re determined to make it through. Like all businesses, the gallery will be faced with changes once we’re allowed to reopen. It will be quite some time before we can offer receptions and artist’s talks again and we’ll likely be scheduling more individual appointments. I believe people will want to see artwork in person even more after staring at their screens for months. So, we’ll be waiting.
Finally, how are the cats reacting to this new way of life? Or haven’t they noticed?
Maisy and Pip are very social cats. Aside from crashing the occasional zoom meeting, I think they believe we’ve retired and can’t understand why non-stop pats/belly rubs aren’t on the agenda every day.
Maisy and Pip and Carol (that’s me!) all say, “Take a shop on CeruleanArts.com/collections/all . You’ll be glad you did!”