HOME IS WHERE THEIR ART IS: John Farina and Adam Tully Talk About How They Met and Built a Collection Together

Mixed Media Diorama by Michelangelo Lovelace.

John Farina and Adam Tully don’t just collect art: they live it. Pieces from their eclectic collection ranging somewhere between 600 and 700 works adorn every room in their home, including the attic, bathrooms, closets, and hallways. About 85 percent of that, Farina estimates, is work by local artists. Even their cats—Emma, Hex, and Roosevelt—play with charming little toys crafted by Cleveland artists.

“The art has overflowed in some places,” Tully confesses. They rotate their collection about every two years, and they plan to start culling their assemblage. Soon. They promise.

The two have hosted numerous art events and parties at their home on Cleveland’s East Side, including events for ArtNEO, The Print Club of Cleveland, and The Cleveland Museum of Art, where Farina once worked in fundraising.

“Adam and John are just great people, great characters, and I’m always happy to see them,” says George Kocar, whose painting Pablo Looks at Feast of Herod currently holds a place of honor on their living room wall and who’s visited for dinners and birthday parties. “Adam’s dad and mom bought a bunch of my stuff, as well, and they also commissioned me to do a painting for Adam’s birthday.”

About fifteen years ago, Farina and Tully met through a now-defunct online dating website, Gay.com. “I said ‘Hello,’ and we went from there,” Farina recalls. Tully learned that Farina grew up on Long Island and had been a lifelong lover of art, which started with an inherent aversion to blank walls. As a child, that meant advertisements “with artistic design merit” and later, movie posters. He had moved to Cleveland in 1991 and worked in retail, but then launched a career in political activism, lobbying, and advocacy—currently for The AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Farina learned that Tully was a North Olmsted native and is the last of his family to remain in Ohio, while his aunts’ families moved to Chicago and Florida and his parents and brother to Las Vegas. His art was music, which led him to attend the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory, where he studied classical upright bass and piano.

Farina had been collecting art for many years, having become a regular museum- and gallery-goer in New York as a young man. Whenever Tully visited Farina’s apartment, he could see his new friend’s earliest acquisitions on display, which started to pique a burgeoning interest in art.

“When we got together, John brought me to Spaces, and I learned what conceptual artwork was, what some avant-garde art was, and then started collecting from there,” says Tully, who works as the children’s librarian for the Collinwood Branch of Cleveland Public Library.

Typically, they’re in synch on which pieces they would like to add to their collection, although Tully takes a more studied approach, while Farina relies on instinctive response. “I’m the process guy,” Tully informs. “I appreciate the final product, but I like to know how it gets there, too.”

“I’m more like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool. It’s beautiful. I like it,’” counters Farina.

On October 1, 2016, having waited for the same-sex marriage law to change, the two got married, appropriately at 78th Street Studios, where they had spent a lot of time visiting galleries and attending Third Friday art walks. They enlisted many of their friends whose works are on display in their home to produce the wedding.

Painter Hilary Gent, for example, helped plan the event, while fiber and textile artist Libby Chaney created their boutonnières and corsages; collage artist Bridget D. Ginley and visual artist Dawn Tekler made all of the table decorations; and fashion designer Dru Christine designed their outfits for the day. The couple included an entire page in the wedding program to thank all the artists who contributed to their nuptials.

Lori Kella and her husband and fellow photographer Michael Loderstedt designed their wedding card. “As a wedding gift, I also made a diorama of their home with a rainbow, so that was fun to do for them,” Kella says. Her piece Framed Heron from her latest body of work hangs in their living room and, she adds proudly, replaced one of Michael’s photographs.

In September 2013, Farina and Tully had become so deeply enmeshed in the world of art collecting that they decided to open their own gallery: the Maria Neil Art Project in the Waterloo Arts District. They had already begun to freelance curate shows, starting with a Liz Maugans exhibit at the since-closed Dragonfly Lounge, Chef Marlin Kaplan’s sushi bar on West 25th Street downtown. They took the name from Farina and Tully’s middle names, respectively.

Drawing on their Cleveland artist connections, they held shows by Michelangelo Lovelace, Eric Rippert, Hilary Gent, Amy Casey, Cathie Bleck, and Darius Stewart. They had a good run, but closed in October 2017, having become burned out from working seven-day weeks on top of their full-time jobs and spending significant amounts of their personal money to operate the gallery.

Fortunately, they continue to operate the Maria Neil Art Project as independent curators. They have designed several fine art installations for IngenuityFest. They also organize a show once a year at Waterloo Arts and oversee a regular rotation of artworks at Six Shooter Coffee’s new store on Waterloo Road next to the gallery.

For these two exceptional art lovers, an underlying motivation for collecting is to support Cleveland’s impressive panoply of artists. Their advice to novice collectors starts with not being intimidated by prices. There are many smaller pieces that are affordable, and if it’s a larger or more expensive piece by an established artist, but you really love it, ask the artist or the gallery owner if you can work out a payment plan.

The easiest way to start collecting or continue to build a collection is simply to spend time visiting galleries. “You’d be amazed at what you can find at a place like Zygote Press,” Farina says. “You can go through their bins full of beautiful, amazing prints, large and small, and you can find pieces for $50 or $100.”

They also recommend searching online for the Cleveland Artist Registry, and if you can, do like they did and join The Print Club of Cleveland: membership includes an annual print given to members. Another source for acquiring art is to attend auctions, and Farina and Tully recommend checking out the following auction houses: Gray’s, Rachel Davis, Aspire, and New Auctions.

“You can find some great deals,” Farina says. He adds that attending benefits to support different art institutions—such as Spaces, where he once served as President of the Board, or Art Cares, or The Cleveland AIDS Task Force, where he once worked as public policy director—usually include auctions where you can bid on art.

Another great source they suggest is the Cleveland Art Association (carta), founded in 1915 to support and promote the visual arts in Cleveland. Individuals can peruse the organization’s collection of paintings, drawings, prints, small sculptures, photographs, textiles, ceramics, and glass created by notable Cleveland-area artists; through a lottery program, people can take one piece home to live with for a year.

“If it’s a living artist, at the end of that year, you can either choose to give it back or pay for it,” Tully explains. “That’s the only way we were able to get a Christopher Pekoe; his work is definitely not in our price range, but by the end of that year we were able to save enough and purchase his photograph.”

This spring, they can’t wait to get back to weeding and relaxing in the landscaped sculpture gardens in their front and back yards. For Farina, the benefits of collecting art are far-reaching, and not just to counter his abhorrence of blank walls: “We get great joy out of our art, so there is a life in our house, and it’s always nice to wake up, look around and see something beautifu