The push broom and the dustpan in the front corner of Lily Mulberry's Over-the-Rhine storefront at Main and 13th streets only hint at the work needed to re-open the cluttered storefront as a gallery and to maintain the arts space.
Mulberry stays busy with her mother on the first April afternoon we meet. Gallery 1305 is a personal project for the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP) 2003 grad and longtime O-T-R resident. She knows the grocer who used to occupy the space when she lived in an apartment on the building's upper floors. But the African grocery — like many O-T-R businesses — closed, and Mulberry, 22, sees an opportunity to give Main Street the shot in the arm it desperately needs, a retail art gallery.
"I am trying to get people to come out to Over-the-Rhine any time, not just for a night out," she says. "I want people to have a Main Street experience. People come here on weekends for the bars, but I want people to feel there is an arts scene here. I want this space to be a place where the focus is on the artwork. I'm not going to have a poetry reading or music events."
There are other examples of grass roots exhibition spaces that have grown into places significant and important to the local visual art community: the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, The Mockbee and Semantics Gallery. But Mulberry's storefront is the first garage gallery, a true one-woman show and shoestring effort that makes up for a lack of money and resources with belief in the arts. Mulberry shares the vision held by many that O-T-R is Cincinnati's arts neighborhood and, to her credit, she's spending her time, money and energy to do something about it.
Two weeks later, on the day before the gallery's opening, Mulberry admits to some unexpected costs. New ceiling tracks and track lighting have cost her an additional $500. She says the small details are fun, such as deciding what music to use. But the sign near the door is only half-finished — "Tide: New Work by Lily M" — proof that Mulberry has a long night ahead to be ready for her opening.
Her first show exhibits her own work, introducing herself and her space to the community. After that, Gallery 1305 will feature work she curates, often from artists she met at DAAP. (The debut show runs through May 22.)
Mulberry is a wisp of a woman with sandy blonde hair and a subtle accent that connects her to her Northern Kentucky roots. She says she's used to hard work, after paying for her high school and college tuitions as a teenager. She will continue to bartend at an O-T-R restaurant to pay the bills, tweaking her work schedule so she can staff the gallery during the day and tend bar at night.
Mulberry replaces slick exhibition spaces like Marta Hewitt's and Suzanna Terrill's galleries that once occupied Main Street. Her space might be missing the gloss and professionalism of the recently closed Linda Schwartz Gallery on Fourth Street, but Mulberry's garage spirit is what keeps Main Street clinging to life.
Kaldi's, the neighborhood's longstanding coffeehouse, recently closed its doors, adding another empty storefront to the streetscape.
"I heard about Kaldi's from both sides, from people who worked there," Mulberry observes. "It boils down to a bad plan by the business owner. But it's very sad, and I hope someone buys it and opens it back up."
Asked about the neighborhood, Mulberry says, "I think Over-the-Rhine has already bottomed out. There is too much energy here to be harmed by one individual or one business closing."