By Grace Salter

With a creative vision to recognize and spotlight local arts organizations and artists, Mary Urbas’ idea to create “The Big @ss @rt Show” was first pitched at a gallery committee meeting at Chagrin Falls’ Valley Art Center. Her goal was to assemble both east and west side Northeast Ohio galleries to participate together and support each other, all in an effort to exhibit large-scale artwork. 

Urbas is the gallery coordinator at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland and she is on the Valley Art Center’s gallery committee. After discussing locations with VAC committee member John Sargent III and gallery director Dan Simone, they invited BAYarts, Artists Archives of the Western Reserve and the Gallery at Lakeland to join the collaboration.  

Each organization eagerly accepted the invitation, and the “Big @ss @rt Show” is now on view in all four locations – with varying open and end dates, public receptions and artwork in each space. The show gives all of them the opportunity to display artwork often too large or all consuming to fit gallery spaces for an average show.

“The idea to show large-scale artworks started with conversations I had with John Sargent years ago,” Urbas says. “… There’s a power in numbers, which is why the collective we, John, Dan and I, decided to go citywide. Go big or go home.” 

Valley Art Center

VAC, a visual arts hub, was the first to debut its exhibition to the public, with a reception July 7 in its Bowen Gallery. Showcasing a collection of contemporary artwork, it will be on view through Aug. 23.  

The VAC show features a lineup of local artists including Leigh Brooklyn, Bonnie McCormick, Alex Jasko and Sargent. It also includes a variety of media and styles including oil paintings, sculptures, and realist and abstract paintings. 

Julie Polsinelli, assistant director and gallery manager of VAC, says she wanted to display artwork inspired by nature and healing. 

“Much of my work deals with nature and the way being in nature and around natural forms is energizing, healing and inspiring,” she says. “This power of nature is, I believe, connected to our biological origins and its connection to our early lives as human creatures.” 

“West Wall Too,” by McCormick was created with both oil and acrylic paints, measuring 44½ by 74½ inches. Utilizing abstract patterns and vibrant colors, the painting aims to bring attention to what is rarely recognized – a painting’s background. 

“With confident yet gentle palettes, I use color vibrancy and focus on the materiality of oil paint,” McCormick writes in her description. “The ‘wallpaper’ with its systematic, abstracted patterns, decorative with carefully planned color relationships, makes the invisible visible and the intangible real. Something rarely focused on, the ‘wallpaper’ itself, becomes a subject of painting.” 

“Love,” a 48 x 48-inch oil painting on canvas by Brooklyn, was created after she encountered a newly married couple in Los Angeles while she was pursuing street photography. 

“Their love was palpable and their combined style was interesting and innovative,” Brooklyn writes in her description. “I was instantly drawn to their funky hair and matching denim with all the patches. They agreed to let me photograph them, and I was able to capture this candid and seemingly intimate moment of them looking deeply into each other’s eyes, and it really spoke to me. Amongst all the loud cars and people in the city, they managed to have this very quiet and very private moment. It was beautiful.” 

“Peace and the War between a Person and Her Thinking,” by Libby Chaney. Mixed media, fabric, 92 x 146 inches, on view at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. | Photo / Grace Salter

Artists Archives

Artists Archives of the Western Reserve in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood opened its show July 13. Executive Director Mindy Tousley says the organization had large artworks of all media and was excited to participate in the collaboration. As an archival facility, it had many artworks that deserved a chance to be shown, some of which dated back to the 1980s.  

“The Archives has developed a history of collaborations with other arts organizations, so when this show was proposed we naturally accepted the idea, which struck us as a lot of fun,” Tousley says. “The serious part, for me, is that this exhibition allowed me to get some of the very large work that is in the Archives out and into the public eye. It was a real pleasure to select and install this exhibition.” 

For example, “Domestic Diva,” a 2005 mixed media and acrylic painting by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, and “Painted Wood and Nails,” a sculpture created by John Jackson in 1995, both finally made their debut, in part due to the lack of space for large artwork in Cleveland.  

Artist Libby Chaney spoke about her fiber piece, “Peace and the War between a Person and Her Thinking” at the opening reception and described her battle choosing different colors, structures and patterns while creating the work, hence the name.  

“This work was originally composed of large, mostly red pieces,” Chaney says. “I decided to rework and expand it. I covered, erased and refigured most of the shape. In the course of working, I became intrigued with pastels and wanted to make a calm environment.” 

The AAWR show is on view through Aug. 26. 

“Painted Wood and Nails,” sculpture by John Jackson (1995), on view at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. Photo / Grace Salter

The Gallery at Lakeland

The Gallery at Lakeland’s show opened with a reception July 23. Urbas says this show is the biggest of the four participating venues and includes textiles, jewelry, paper and other media. It includes 26 artworks by 27 artists. 

In conjunction with the exhibit, Urbas created a fast-paced reception program and discussion for visitors to learn about a variety of smaller arts organizations and projects, titled “Big Heads of Little Arts Organizations.” It included a “rapid-fire” talk, where each organization represented showed 20 slides at 20 seconds a piece to provide information about their missions and plans for the future, she explains. 

Urbas notes she showcases her former art teacher from Cleveland Heights High School, Larry Krause, through his oil painting on canvas, “Window Trimmer.” Also displayed in the exhibition is “Temperamental,” by Jenniffer Omaitz, a colorful, abstract acrylic painting on canvas.

The Gallery at Lakeland show is on view through Sept. 8. 

“Temperamental,” by Jenniffer Omaitz. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 inches, on display at The Gallery at Lakeland. Courtesy of The Gallery at Lakeland.


BAYarts in Bay Village was the final venue to open its exhibition on July 28. 

Karen Petkovic, the artistic director at BAYarts, says the organization is thrilled to be part of this exhibition series. Having more limited space, the gallery chose fewer artists. Eight artworks are in the show, on view through Aug. 26. 

“It is not often in Cleveland that east side and west side galleries participate together and exhibit,” Petkovic says. “I think this is worth mentioning, as our wonderful city is always a little divided – even in the art world.”

“Everyone Royal” by Erjon Hajnaj is one of the eight artworks displayed at BAYarts.  

Urbas says she is proud of the execution of and participation in the “The Big @ss @rt Show,” and she’s hopeful it will be informative to the different audiences. She’s thankful to have the chance to recognize and support the work of local artists, she adds. 

“Everyone Royal” by Erjon Hajnaj. Oil on canvas, 60 x 72 x 1.5 inches. Courtesy of BAYarts.

On View

For the full list of artists, locations, dates and more information about “The Big @ss @rt Show,” visit