Blue collar impresario: Jerry Gray’s mission at Bozarts GalleryWritten by Michael Brooks | | email@example.com
The balmy spring air that wafted in through the open front door at Bozarts Fine Art and Music Gallery on South St. Clair almost matched the affable and contagious optimism that owner Jerry Gray exudes when talking about his goals for the site.
“We hope to be much more than just another place where paintings hang on the wall,” he said. “Ideally we will be a catalyst for greater awareness of the arts in Northwest Ohio, and our presence has already helped bring the work of dozens of visual and musical artists to a wider audience.”
Gray is an atypical gallery owner, and this is not just reflected in the roughhewn and sparse aesthetics of the building. He lives on site in a small apartment carved out of the space with his 5-year-old German shepherd Jobo, and to help defray expenses he works as a bartender at nearby taverns.
“Bozarts is really my life,” he said. “Everything I earn, I pour right back into the place.”
Passersby might mistake the unassuming building for a more mundane use; among the more recent tenants at 151 S. St. Clair was a towing service. The building that houses the gallery was constructed in 1910, and the place also housed a cement mixing facility in the early 20th century. Gray said the 10,000 square foot structure required a significant amount of renovations before Bozarts hosted its first show in July 2009.
“This is a crazy old building, and I’d have to describe it as a work in progress itself,” he said, pointing out odd angles in the structure’s beams and joists. “When we moved in there was just screwed-in sheets of plexiglas covering the window openings, and we had to add a bathroom, replace doors, hang drywall, paint everything and tuck-point the brickwork inside the place.”
Bozarts is pronounced with a hard Z sound and spelled like what Gray called “an American bastardization” of the French architectural style beaux arts. In the past year the gallery has hosted a wide variety of shows, some featuring solo artists and others that were group showings. The gallery’s recent “Works” production in February utilized an unusual format.
“For three weeks in January a dozen artists worked on site to create pieces for the show,” he said, adding that the gallery relies largely on word-of-mouth and online social media for exposure. “In total we exhibited over 150 pieces to a crowd of hundreds of people who trudged out here on a Friday night in February with over five inches of snow.”
Gray, who is a native of the small town of Delta, has been a fixture in the Toledo arts scene since 2000, and he spent several years living and working at the Collingwood Arts Center. He also operates an art studio and production facility called Quest for Fire in the Downtown Secor Building with local artist and producer Kerry Krow.
Gray sees Bozarts as a “logical extension” of his concurrent work with Krow.
“Though I did not necessarily realize it at the time, everything I have been doing the past decade has been working toward a site like this,” he said. “Ideally we want to expand Bozarts to include a storefront area so that we can further help artists find audiences and aficionados for their work.”
Among the factors that separate Bozarts from other area galleries, said Gray, is that the site is “an artist’s gallery.”
“By that I mean that artists are invited to take control of and essentially create the space in which their pieces are displayed,” he said. “They have a great deal of control over the lighting, the music, the ambience and even the food at the showing – we had vegan artists bring food that reflected both their philosophical and artistic aims.”
Gray said that while Bozarts does not keep regular hours, the gallery is always available for showings by appointment. In addition, Bozarts hosts showings that run two to three weeks in length.
“A lot is dependent upon the schedules of the individual artists,” he said, adding that many artists work “regular jobs” to underwrite their work. “We also open up for selected events in the area, like the Arts Commission’s ‘Gallery Loop’ and when there are other occasions when a crowd is likely to be nearby.”
The next major exhibition that is scheduled for Bozarts is titled “The Bald and the Beautiful,” which opens May 7 from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. The show features the works of local artists Michael Ziegler and Luke Ellison. Gray expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for the upcoming exhibition.
“This is going to be a really fun kind of show, definitely not the sort of stuffy elitist exhibition people sometimes think when they hear the word ‘showing’,” he said. “I think people will be amazed at the excellent work that is being created almost in their own backyards.”
Gray, whose own work revolves around mixed media pieces, said that he works with a “fairly large” circle of musical and visual artists in his quest to bring to light local talent.
“So far I have mostly been working with people I have known for a long time and who I trust,” he said, adding that financial arrangements between gallery and artists have been on a “relatively informal” basis. “People who might be interested in what we do should just stop by a show and get a feel for what Bozarts is about.”
Bozarts Fine Art and Music Gallery is located at 151 South St. Clair in Toledo’s Warehouse District. For more information about upcoming shows or to arrange a private viewing, contact Jerry Gray at (419) 464-5785.
Stret Cred by Jerry Gray
Every time I have busked or performed publicly without permission it was … shhh … illegal. Not because it wasn’t permitted; I just didn’t know (or care) how to go about it legally or how inexpensive it was to do. I don’t think anyone does or maybe it’s simply just not part of our community so it’s not even considered by the vast majority of talent, who may be able to take advantage of a great tradition.
The following information will lay out how to obtain a Street Performers License and some of the laws regarding public performance under Toledo Municipal Code 757. To obtain a Toledo Street Performers license, simply go to the 20th floor, suite 2000 of One Government Center with $20 and request a street performer application.
Fill out the form, pay the fee and pose for a quick picture and the city will issue a photo ID license, which will need to be visible during performances. The license will be valid from the date of purchase until Dec. 31 of the year purchased and can be renewed for a $5 charge. Permits are non-transferable and remain the property of the city. Once issued the permit, the performer will also be issued a copy of rules and regulations. There are no age requirements (Hey! Toledo School of the Arts), however minors need written consent signed by the parent, guardian or custodian. Others rules include every member of a performance group must have a permit and perhaps most importantly, performers are able to accept contributions of money or property in any receptacle along with a manageable list of others.
Performers are permitted to work in a number of areas, some of which surprised me a little. Also included are working hours and other interesting information I wasn’t expecting. Performances are permitted in public except those excluded by city council or the director of police operations. Notarized written permission is needed, signed by the property owner or property manager, for performing on private property such as a mall, plaza or courtyard of a building, unless they are present and consenting.
Also, performances are allowed outside of Downtown at public festivals or events with or without the consent of the festival sponsor by being granted permission by the director of natural resources (as far as I can tell).
One of the most compelling points in chapter 757 is 757.21, which states the mayor is authorized and directed to adopt and promulgate (promote) rules as he deems necessary for the regulation of performances defined in the chapter. Which seems to mean he could, perhaps by simple decree, promote and really open this idea up to neighborhoods or districts such as Uptown, Warehouse, Downtown, The Arts District, The Live Work Create District, Old West End, Erie Street Market, Promenade Park, River Walk, The Avenue of the Arts or any number of businesses, neighborhoods and communities who could rekindle a romance with a cultural classic.
I would personally be excited and would love to see street performers, whether they’re poets, painters, musicians or even scary clowns of some sort, out and about in the streets of Downtown Toledo. From my time spent in San Francisco I came to the conclusion that I would no longer give change or money to panhandlers, in part from the sheer volume of them. The only folks I would contribute to are the performers or artists who offer something of themselves to the public. The lack of street performers has unfortunately saved me a lot of money and fond memories here in Toledo over the last several years.
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to get to know and befriend perhaps the most prolific street performer Toledo has seen in generations, John Roundcity. We have known each other for a number of years and followed one another’s position and movement throughout our perspective paths. We sat down and discussed some of his stories, philosophies and matters of the fact regarding busking in Toledo and around the country.
“I first started out of necessity in ’99 in Berkeley Calif., because I had no home, I was traveling and I was flat broke,” Roundcity said.
Shortly following, he busked throughout Oakland, Santa Barbara and San Diego before returning to Toledo later in 1999. He then found his spot outside the Subway at Jefferson and Superior, where he spent a couple of years regularly performing often late night during bar hours. Roundcity moved to Columbus in 2001, where he continued to busk in Columbus and neighboring towns and cities.
“It wasn’t until I made it to New York City in 2004 when I really got the bug,” he said.
In NYC, Roundcity would find suitable spots in parks and subway platforms as street performing became an everyday routine. From there, Roundcity traveled and performed all across the country, finding cozy seats and receptive crowds in places such as Chicago, Clarksdale, Ark., Cleveland, Detroit, Windsor, Toronto, New Orleans, Nashville, throughout Florida, the Bahamas and up to Talkeetna Alaska, to name a few.
“I just enjoy being on the ground level, with the people on the streets. Those are my favorite places.” Roundcity said.
I asked him what he thought some of the pros and cons of issuing permits and having a larger busker presence in a city like Toledo could be.
“The pros of licensing are, I guess, the fact that the law recognizes that you are legit and have been approved by a higher authority,” he said. “Having a license cuts out interference from that one cop who is having a bad day and from what I’ve seen, a license in cities like New Orleans and NYC is always helpful. Police will still push ya along but they can’t arrest you. I have never had problems with the police as far as getting arrested, permit or not they just shuffle you along and you go find another spot to play.
“Cons of licensing are pretty much the fact that it should be a choice of the performer. Its a free country, so they say, so having to obtain a license to do what you love in public and to make people happy is very silly to me.”
During our conversation. the topic comes full circle to the larger spectrum (Mr. Mayor and the powers that be).
“I believe more street performers and artists on the streets of Toledo, might bring more people out to local businesses, because there is something else out there to enjoy,” Roundcity said, and I agree 100 percent. Promotion of citywide or district and businesses to allow and encourage through goods or services (a meal perhaps) street performers a location to share their skills, could be very rewarding, given the right setting.
I believe, if the city and the community desire such evident and immediate reversal of perception of what Downtown is and has to offer, simple gestures of goodwill and open invitation could go a long way. Some cities and small towns are known for and receive heavy traffic for their reputation of murals and other public works of art, for example the Toledo Museum of Art. It seems to me that for a city with such an intimate understanding, that there is yet something missing, and it could openly receive the imagination of performers creating something where there is nothing.
All it takes is permission, an invite and maybe a permit. I invite anyone who has the will and energy (perhaps a student) to create and maintain a Facebook page or Web site based on connecting Toledo street performers with local beautiful businesses … I will personally promote the crap out of it … yup, you heard me, squeezing all the promotional crap right out of it. You have my word. Sincere. O
Jerry Gray is an artist, writer, vocalist, bartender, gallery owner and advocate of the Toledo Potential, including the retaining and featuring of artistic talent and culture in our city.