Power of the Arts Coordinator Karen Schubert: I'm here in the lovely café at Fellows Riverside Gardens with Lily Martuccio and POA spring intern Hope Sutton. Lily, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Tell us about your official capacity here at Fellows.
Lily Martuccio: I work for Mill Creek Metroparks and I am dedicated to Fellows Riverside Gardens. I am a graphics specialist here at the Metroparks. And that encompasses a lot of areas, especially with the Visitor Center here that we have and the amount of people that we get. There’s always a need for signage, directional, informational things that need to be done. That way I can be here to monitor and quickly respond to the needs. Along with that comes the exhibit coordination, which is for the Weller Gallery, the outdoor gallery, and the Melnick Museum.
KS: Let’s start with the galleries we just saw. We saw the photography exhibit in the Weller Gallery, inside the Davis center. Hope and I were noticing how beautiful a space that is, with the natural light coming in through the skylight, the beautiful gray. Even though it is a small room, it is really well lit with the gray and curvy light structures. They set off the light. I have seen many kinds of art work in there and it all just looks perfect.
LM: It does, it lends itself to the setting of the building and to the surrounding areas of the gardens. That is the Weller Gallery and it is dedicated to art that is nature-based. That would be botanicals, nature related. Currently it is the Ford Nature center amateur photography exhibit. So there are over 180 entries that you see in there – which is quite a lot for that space – and it still doesn’t look cluttered, so it was really nice how it all fit in. We’ve had 3D work in there, photography, painting, pastels. We try to mix it up. We try to do at least five exhibits a year, and this is the first one for this year.
KS: How are you involved with the exhibits?
LM: I take the applications and inquiries. I then present them to my supervisors, or gardens director, and see what we want to – this is my first year doing it. Last year was kind of already booked by the previous coordinator, so I only had to fill in a couple of exhibits. So then I went through the process of coordinating for this year. Now, next year I am getting a lot of inquiries, so I am putting together a committee who will get to jury who gets to exhibit in the Weller Gallery. Because it is just such a nice space and people come in and say “Wow, that’s really great.” I want to keep it so there is a variety throughout the year.
KS: The first interview for this series was with Ed Hallahan, and we talked about his sculptural exhibit with Jackie Mountain with the wood carvings and textiles. It was just stunning in that space, as well.
LM: Oh, that was phenomenal. I would like to get more of that because it was 3D and textural and nature-based. It was beautiful. And at the same time I think Ed had his exhibit in the outdoor gallery. He did a lot of work with wood and trees –
KS: The integration –
LM: Within that area besides the trees, was really a nice homage to the trees and the landscape there.
KS: Tell us more about the outdoor gallery.
LM: The outdoor gallery is still kind of being defined, I think, as we go along. Finding artists to go along and that fit the space is a little bit more difficult –
KS: So it has to have the right scale, and you don’t want it to be lost with the large trees and the open space, right?
LM: Right! And it has to be weatherized because you go through the seasons there. But it is a beautiful space to wander around in. In the past, we had most of the outdoor gallery works in the beds along the grassy areas. This past year, I asked Tony if he could put his works out in the middle to draw people out there. Otherwise, unless you’re there with a map – if you’re just walking along and you see this piece of work there, it’s like, oh what is this? Then you see the sign that says outdoor gallery and what it is.
KS: Tony Armeni is the metals sculptor, whose metal work is there now.
LM: Yes, and we were very fortunate that he was able to exhibit this past year. He is famous in the area and has done great work with the bus stops and what else has he done – ? His public art is tremendous. We were so fortunate to have it, and hopefully we will continue to have his works in our gardens.
KS: But I can also imagine that, it is such an incredible space, I could imagine that you could draw work from a wider regional radius?
LM: Yes, you would think. I went to the YSU Festival of the Arts and I saw a low of artists there, and I gave them literature, talked to them, and tried to see if they’d be interested in coming. Of course, everyone says they’re interested, but there is really not that reciprocal, oh yes, I’d like to come see your place.
KS: Well let’s see if Power of the Arts might be able to help you connect.
LM: Yeah, that would be wonderful! So, like I said, this coming year we got Mike Gibson to do some topiary works, so that’s for 2018. Next year is kind of open, I would definitely welcome suggestions or entrants that you might want us to consider.
KS: So, speaking of visiting artists, I love the documentary, A Man Named Pearl, about the topiaries. You brought in some incredible artists.
LM: Yes, we did. Pearl Bryer, who is from Columbia, South Carolina. And his story was incredible –
KS: It really is!
LM: He was on TV – there’s some documentaries from him on TV. He was on CBS Sunday morning, I think they did – one of the news stations – did a special on him. He was never trained in the area, he just saw and wanted to do and did.
KS: Well, he essentially integrated a neighborhood, a white neighborhood. Just to show his neighbors that he would be a valuable part of the neighborhood, and that he would really care for his property, he just began learning and teaching himself the art of topiary. And then pretty soon, he was – if we can verb a little bit – topiarying the entire region. Right, it’s just really amazing, and he seems beloved as a person as well. It’s a great story.
LM: It really is.
KS: What is the role of art in a park? This is a garden, there is obviously landscape architecture, and we touched on architecture being important. And, you go a step beyond that and bring in community-based art, visiting art, and artists. So what is, how does the park see its role, or role of art, how is that integrated into the mission here? I know that the Weller gallery is looking for natural works, and maybe, is it creating a visual understanding through the natural world –
LM: Relating the natural world to, to the botanic and the nature. Now, that doesn’t say we won’t show an artist who does a lot of hardscape paintings. But he worked with the lighting, and that was – to me – a really incredible use of building, hardscapes, and light. And how an artist uses light is so important – how they capture it. So we will go a little bit beyond seeing flowers and trees. We can break outside that box. I think the park is still evolving to where it’s going with its art and the mission of the art. It is part of education and to educate the park, or enlighten the public about appreciating art. We still bring in guest authors who are more landscape, design, and elemental in that respect. And Pearl was one of those ones that crossed the barriers where his art was the topiary art but he was also a guest author in his presentation to the public.
KS: Well, that’s a nice segue to the children’s exhibit that you have now in the lobby. Tell us about that.
LM: That is through the Youngstown City School district through the visual and performing arts VPA project. Tracy Schuller Vivo is the coordinator for that department and we worked with her previously for a book about Fellows Riverside Gardens with an artist and they put together A Walk Through the Garden and that’s a book about Fellows Riverside Gardens –
KS: That’s a wonderful book!
LM: That is how Tracy got connected with Fellows Riverside Gardens and she contacted us about this exhibit. The children were done with it – I think in October – and they asked if we had any exhibit in the gallery but the gallery was already booked, and the winter celebration of course took up the whole lobby upstairs. In January, it was perfect timing in which everything goes away, the trees and decorations, so there’s a big void.
So there’s work from the students and the subject was called Unity. And so, for the beginning of the year, you always have the hope of a better year, and to have pieces from students called Unity, it just fit so well with us. It has been really well received and is up through the end of the month. There are thirteen canvases that all the students worked on together at whatever schools they were from. The canvases are going back to the schools, people have asked if they could purchase them, but they’re not for sale. This was just so well received and we had a reception here with the students and their parents but it was a really bad snow day and the kids were out of school. So we didn’t get as many students as we had hoped but the performing arts students, they sang, and it was just so lovely. We’re hoping to continue this and make it any annual collaboration with the schools.
KS: The works are so big-hearted, they’re really wonderful.
LM: They’re so raw, untapped. That’s what I like about them.
HS: I’ve noticed, just on your website, that you post about the exhibits that are going on. Is there anywhere else that you post about them, social media-wise?
LM: Just on our website and Facebook. We have monthly calendars that come out.
HS: So you utilize things like Facebook, and have you found that it makes it easier to broadcast what you’re doing to the public?
LM: I think so, yes. We have reached out to some of the local papers, do press releases, put it on the WYSU Community Calendar. More local, but at this time our budget is going in more of the direction to local artists so we don’t have to pay for the shipping of the art. We have run into a lot of expenses with shipping in the past. So we’re trying to cut back on the expenses but still present a high quality of work. The Youngstown area is full of wonderful of artists. We are just teeming with talent that just needs to be exposed.
HS: Have you had to adapt your marketing style because we are much more social media prevalent now, in order to get people to come to the exhibits? I know the gardens themselves get people here with events and weddings. But have you seen more of an influx by integrating social media?
LM: I think so. I think our visitation is up, definitely. And the nice thing about it, is they happen to come to the gallery and they say, “Oh, there’s a gallery here.” And then they’ll come back to see what the next exhibit is. They’ll frequent here more often and just like outside in the gardens. Our annuals change up every year. We don’t have the same color palette; it’s always different. The bulbs are different colors. You don’t want people to say they’ve been there done that – because every year is a different color scheme and palette, different annuals and plants.
KS: So, social media can give you a platform for showing –
LM: Oh definitely. They’ll say look what is in bloom. You just take a photo and pop it on the website.
HS: So, you would almost argue that it is better utilizing it than not?
LM: Well, I think you – I don’t know if it’s better. You kind of have to go to what is responsive. People are more responsive to social media now, whereas before people would look in print material. That’s not so much the case anymore, it is kind of an immediate gratification that is the case now with technology and the website and social media.
HS: This is more of a personal question, just your personal belief. Do you think that platforms like Facebook or Instagram, do you think they devalue art or do you think that they help it be more accessible to people who may not have been able to reach it otherwise?
LM: Oh, I think that it helps showcase it. It is so instant, you don’t have to travel to somewhere to see the art. If you don’t have a reference book at home, or if you want to see what is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, you can look it up online and see what is there. You can get some ideas from that.
KS: What is your background, Lily?
LM: I have an applied science degree and I worked in health care for about 15-20 years maybe. And while I lived in California during the ‘80’s and part of the ‘90’s, I took my first art class probably in my late 20’s. They had this great community college, El Camino Community College, in Torrance, California. It’s one of the largest community colleges across the country but I lived close to it, while I was working, I was looking for something else and thought, “Oh, I’ll take some art classes” just because I was always interested in it. So, I took part time art classes for 6-7 years. When I moved back to Ohio, I combined all of my hours, then I got my bachelors in fine arts and graphic design.
KS: Graphic design, so you’re really, your job is involving and expanding as much as your life trajectory, right? Just many different things. There’s social media and marketing is changing so much, and you’re having to keep up with all of that.
LM: Yes, but fortunately, we have a great marketing department for the Metroparks that is tremendous with keeping up with all of that. I kind of just feed in what my requests are and they take care of that.
KS: How else has your job here changed in the last year? How long have you been here?
LM: Oh, I’ve been here 22 years –
KS: That’s a long time.
LM: Yeah, the last 6 have been full time. Prior to that I was part-time graphics specialist. When I became full time is when I became dedicated to Fellows Riversides Gardens and so with here, everyone wears so many different hats and you have to be adaptable and be able to present to the public. The minute you walk out of your office you are in the public eye. People ask you questions so you have to be able to convey information to them, verbally, visually – with our designs – and everything. I think our visitation is between 300 – 400 thousand people a year.
KS: What else do you want people to know about the park? About Fellows?
LM: I want them to look at all aspects of the park, if you go to the Metroparks Farm just look at the landscape that is out there and how it changes from season to season. And with everybody having a phone, everybody takes photos. When someone sees something that is really striking, don’t worry about how it comes out on your phone, just take it so you can look back and get that feeling of when you were looking at it. If you like hiking, or have a favorite place you like to go to, take a photo of the gorge, or sketch it. You know, students from YSU, I would encourage them to explore the park. Bring their sketches, their books, their phones and just explore the park. See what everything has to offer. The seasons – just like today – there’s all the steam rising from the snow. That doesn’t happen every day.
KS: I feel like you’re saying that we don’t need to buy expensive equipment and go out to the Rocky Mountains to experience nature. It is really accessible here with a pair of old shoes and step out into the amazing landscapes that change how we feel.
LM: It is. And it is a challenge to get people to appreciate the area, the Metroparks in that capacity and what it has to offer. Then, it might inspire you to go to the Rocky Mountains and say wow, if this is here than maybe – but what we have here is just as great. There is so much geography here. And with Fellows Riverside Gardens you can visit it all year. Three seasons out of the year there is always something beautiful to look at. There’s probably some blooms out there now with the snow drops and the witch hazel. And get involved, get to learn about horticulture, plants, and what they do. We have some great herbal classes and health classes. We have yoga in the gardens in the summer and Tai Chi. We have such a great setting. Why would you go to the gym when you can come to a yoga class out here and gaze upon what is out here?
KS: So even though it’s familiar it is still stunning and special.
LM: I can walk out any day and see something different. Its nature, we are immersing ourselves in a natural setting. We have created it for ourselves for our creature comforts and this is a manmade lake, but where else can you eat and have a view like this in town? The art that you get to experience here year round, come inside from the cold and see what’s going on.
KS: We will! And thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.