William Busta, Gallery Owner
2014 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
Photo by Rob Muller
Like most people, Bill Busta didn’t know exactly what he wanted to become in third grade, but he had a pretty good inkling. That’s when his growing interest in museums and objects on display manifested itself in the little exhibits he designed and mounted complete with labels on shelves at his house.
By sixth grade, when he needed regular visits to his orthodontist, his mom taught him how to take the bus from Brecksville to downtown Cleveland, where he would wander around and admire the beautifully designed displays in the retail store windows of the early ‘60s. During the summers his mother attended graduate school at Case Western Reserve University, he would lose himself in the museums while she was in class.
His senior year in high school, he took a course called “Arts and Humanities,” which exposed him to the progression of culture through history and the relationship of arts disciplines to each other and their roles within the various societies. “That class brought to my mind that culture was of a whole cloth,” he says. “That all the different arts were really responding to what was happening in those civilizations, and sometimes they were advancing an argument or a conversation about those events.”
Then he used his college studies to advance his breadth of knowledge of all of the arts. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English at Baldwin-Wallace College, followed by a master’s degree in history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University in 1976. Next, Bill elevated his knowledge of art and how it should be presented through professional experience. He served as director of the Dacotah Prairie Museum in Aberdeen, SD, for two years, and then as the assistant director of the Plains Art Museum in Moorhead, MN, for a year, where he began to form his philosophy that the things people create that are most articulate are all of our arts, and that those things we create are in dialogue with the past and are our voice to the future.
In 1980, he returned to Cleveland to become director of the New Organization for the Visual Arts until 1982. While working at NOVA, he found one of the key questions raised was, What is it that artists needed most? Additionally, as a child of the ‘60s, he found himself driven to have a direction in his life that served a social and moral purpose.
“We started the gallery because we believed one of the things that could help Cleveland was for it to have more of a cultural identify as a place that was associated with the arts,” Bill says. “I also knew that artists created better work when they were represented by a gallery, they could be more productive when they knew when their next show would open, and could connect more with an audience when the audience knew where their work was over time.”
Thus was the William Busta Gallery conceived to specialize in representing artists who live and work in Northeast Ohio. Since opening on Murray Hill Road in Little Italy, Bill has moved the gallery to Detroit Avenue in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood and then to his current location on Prospect Avenue near Cleveland State University, where he moved in 2007. Today, Bill likes to point out that during the past 25 years, his gallery has held the first shows or first shows in Cleveland for an extensive list of artists who have gone on to great success, many of them winners of the Cleveland Arts Prizes.
One of those artists, Don Harvey, says: “I admire Bill’s basic honesty and his deep respect for the artists he shows. His willingness to support artists as their work changes over time without putting a pressure on them to make things that sell and his ability to not let his own opinion get in the middle of the creative process are remarkable.”
Bill also makes sure to credit his wife in the gallery’s enduring success. “Though her name’s not on the window, Joan’s been very much a part of what the gallery is and what it has become,” he says. “It would have been very, very different without her support or maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all.”