Cerulean Arts: Cultivating an appreciation for art by presenting exhibitions, offering unique decorative and fine art for sale and providing art instruction for personal fulfillment.
We love art. It’s at the core of our lives. We know that art has the power to enrich people. It transcends class, education and income level, bridging geographic and language barriers. Art is what makes us human. We share our passion for art through our gallery, Cerulean Arts.
In a sense, Cerulean Arts can trace its origins to The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, America’s first art museum and school of fine art. It was there that we, Tina Rocha and Michael Kowbuz, first met in 1996 – she as Museum Shop Manager and he as a recent graduate from the MFA program with a part-time position in the Museum Shop. Little did we know at the time that 10 years later, we would be a happy couple opening our own gallery.
On September 15, 2006, Cerulean Arts’ inaugural exhibition celebrated the 10th anniversary of Mike’s graduating MFA class from PAFA. This was exactly the type of show Mike and Tina had always envisioned for the gallery – one that brings together good art and good people sharing a common enthusiasm for the creative spirit.
After the initial excitement of being the “newest” gallery died down, however, things were quite slow. Given our location – at that time surrounded by overgrown empty lots, a homeless shelter and an abandoned Divine Lorraine Hotel – some people thought we were crazy (and on some days we agreed). Weeks would go by without a visitor, not to mention a sale. One year after opening, things got worse when the economy crashed. Luckily we both also continued working at our other professions, and quickly learned how to stretch every penny.
As time went on, our community of artists grew but our limited space meant the waitlist to exhibit became quite long. In 2009, with the economy still on shaky ground, the gallery’s neighbor put his property up for sale. Although the building would require a complete renovation, we realized that this would be our only chance to ever expand. Taking on another mortgage seemed ridiculous, and yet, we somehow found ourselves negotiating with the seller. Seven long years later, we finally qualified for a Small Business Administration loan to secure the additional construction costs for the first-floor expansion.
Construction began in January 2017 and six months later, a celebratory exhibition featuring artists from our first 11 years was the perfect grand opening. The expanded space is now home to our newest venture, the Cerulean Arts’ Collective. With essentially eight separate gallery spaces plus a classroom, we feel we are now positioned to really make a difference. Introducing artists to potential collectors, watching students learn a new medium or technique, or helping a customer find the perfect handmade gift is enormously rewarding – we feel we are doing the job we were meant to do.
Tina Rocha tends to the general management of Cerulean Arts and directs its course. Happiest when developing plans, she always has the gallery’s long-term vision in mind. Throughout Cerulean Arts’ history, she has depended on her aptitude for establishing harmonious spatial relationships, from the arrangement of artwork on the wall to creating enticing shelf displays. This lends to Cerulean Arts’ sense of place, one of comfort and familiarity.
Tina earned simultaneous degrees in both Architecture and History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley. Previous experience includes serving as manager of the Museum Shop at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts followed by positions at several Philadelphia architecture firms. With fifteen years’ experience working closely with clients, consulting engineers and contractors, she was fortunate to oversee construction of her design for the Cerulean Arts expansion project.
In addition to his BFA and MFA degrees, Michael Kowbuz holds a Master of Art in Community College Teaching. Mike is keenly aware of the challenges artists face in making their art while often juggling other professions; he is an exhibiting artist himself as well as the Director of Continuing Education Programs and an adjunct drawing/painting faculty member at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This gives valuable insight as to how Cerulean Arts can best serve those they represent.
With his innate interest in people and their stories, Mike excels in teaching. His firm but supportive guidance enables his students to really shine in an artistic environment. He also enjoys introducing students to other stellar artist/teachers. Art workshops and classes at Cerulean Arts are geared toward personal fulfillment; students are looking for more than simply learning a skill – they want to enjoy the experience of learning.
Cerulean Arts has seen its share of four-legged gallery residents over the years. One freezing cold January day in 2012, a plaintive meowing could be heard, and a little furry face was peeking over the edge of the roof. After only a few days with the gallery, Maisy resigned from her position and somehow made her way home with Mike & Tina. Summer of 2013 brought saucer-eyed Pip(squeak), who appeared at the gallery’s back door with a scratched nose and broken tooth. His rough and tumble beginning didn’t seem to have a lasting impact. He now works from home with Maisy providing much-needed comfort and comic relief after particularly long days.
Cory Reiser joined Cerulean Arts in 2017 just as the gallery expansion was completed. A former office assistant at the architecture firm in which Tina once worked, Cory provides valuable support in keeping the gallery running smoothly. From the never-ending job of keeping the gallery website current, to photographing new products and assisting with customers, she handles each task that comes her way. She has a strong interest in art and with a Waldorf and CAPA education, her creative thinking comes naturally. When not at the gallery, Cory enjoys attending concerts and working on the renovation of her home. In an uncanny example of thinking alike, two of Cory’s cats are named Pip and Squeak.