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Meet the Staff: Mary Gray

Meet the Staff: Mary Gray, Riffe Gallery Director

During her tenure here at the Ohio Arts Council (OAC), Mary Gray has become a friendly and familiar face to many. When she’s not exploring our national parks, you can find her busy at the OAC Riffe Gallery, working with a multitude of people to bring wonderful exhibitions to life.

Q: How did you get into the arts?Mary Gray performing on stage.
Are we going all the way back? I grew up one of seven, and it was important for my parents to find cost-effective activities for my family. There were two places I remember going to frequently starting when I was 4 or 5. One was the Eastern Market, and the other was the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). My earliest memories of seeing significant works of art was at the DIA.

I’ve always appreciated the visual arts, but what drew me in as a junior high and high schooler was the performing arts—especially theatre. I was not good at the visual arts. I can’t draw. I can greatly appreciate it, but I can’t do it. But I could act  and I could sing. So, that’s where I got more heavily involved in the arts. Then, I ended up going to the University of Michigan for a degree in theatre and performing arts. So, the arts have been tied very closely to my life for years.

Q: So that’s how you got started. How did you end up at the OAC?
A friend of mine was stepping into a new position—she was leaving the OAC grants office and going into Percent for Art—and she told me about the position she was vacating. I was working at the Players Theater Columbus at the time, so I thought, “Well, I’ll throw my hat into the ring,” and I got the job in 1993.

About eight months after I started in the grants office, it was decided there would be somebody placed in the gallery full time. I really enjoy arts administration, so I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring once again. It was an assistant coordinator position at the time, and I got the job! And it has escalated with new responsibilities over the last 25 years since then.

Mary Gray and her husband, Dan.Q: What is a day in the life of the director of the OAC Riffe Gallery like?
It changes. It depends on where we are in an exhibition cycle. It’s mostly administrative, and a lot of it is working with and communicating with curators and artists. We have multiple artists in each exhibition and the majority of our exhibitions are curated, so I work with the artists and curators on everything—from concept to loan agreements to transportation to installation, etc. No day is the same. I guess the only thing that is consistent is working with a multitude of people and on several exhibitions at a time. I am always  looking far out into the future.  

Q: How do you plan for an exhibition? What are some of the thoughts behind them?
As far as coming up with the exhibition schedule, it’s very important for our audiences’ sake to vary the exhibition themes and to pay respect to the mediums that many people really enjoy, like quilts or watercolor. So, we take those shows into consideration, make sure to plug them in, and then we try to mix up the themes and mediums or media. We’re constantly thinking about what have we done and what haven’t we done. What groups haven’t we worked with in the past? We like to keep great variety in our schedule.

Q: What do you when you’re not working at the OAC?
Well, I’m married to an artist. Dan is a scenic artist—also a theatre geek—and we enjoy going to the theatre. I particularly appreciate seeing the work he has produced. We also like visiting museums and galleries; whenever we travel, that’s always a part of our itinerary.

We love spending time in our beloved cabin in the Hocking Hills region. We both enjoy being out in nature and hiking. We’re also on a “national parks kick” right now. This past summer we were in Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon. Next year is Arcadia National in Maine.

When I’m home, I love gardening and hanging out with our next-door neighbors and their three adorable kids. They have become such an important part of our lives!

Q: Since I was very young, my parents would take my sister and me to the gallery’s family activities and exhibits. So tell me, what is your favorite part about being director of the OAC Riffe Gallery?
Fun fact: Pictured are OAC 2018-19 Social Media and Special Events Fellow Beth Graham and her sister chatting with Mary Gray while attending a family workshop at the Riffe Gallery. Now, Beth and her sister both work in the arts.I do love arts administration, but the two things that get me going each day and make me really appreciate what I do here is working with the artists and giving them an opportunity to exhibit in the gallery. From what I’m told, this venue is a high priority for many of the artists around the state, and whenever somebody exhibits in the gallery and is complimentary about their professional experience, that’s fantastic. It’s a great feeling to know we’re doing our job well.

The other thing is our doors are open to the public, so anybody—someone waiting for a bus, people working in the Huntington—can experience the gallery, and what is really enjoyable is listening to guests who have very little to no experience in a gallery or museum and getting into a conversation with them about the artwork. It is just such a wonderful eyeopener and very gratifying to be able to give people that experience.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Beth Graham, 2018-19 Social Media and Special Events Fellow
Photos courtesy of Mary Gray

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