Jim Pernotto wants art to play key role in downtown rebirth




An art exhibition opening this week at the Butler museum will showcase recent works by Youngstown artist Jim Pernotto. At least three massive pieces will anchor the exhibit, which will open Sunday in the Davis Gallery.

The art in the exhibit, titled “Merkaba,” merges geometric shapes and patterns with scenes that can be cosmic in scope or theme. The results connect the eternal truths of science with mythology in a way that appears to be both ancient and futuristic.

The exhibit also includes prints and drawings that are studies of the final pieces.

“Jim Pernotto’s art is born out of that same curiosity that we experience in childhood,” wrote Butler Director Louis A. Zona in the exhibit catalog. “It is all about awe and wonder and helps us recognize why art exists in the first place. One sees in his art a remarkable level of curiosity, yet a sophistication that makes us realize that the artist has been doing this for a very long time. And each time he steps into the studio, we are rewarded. Jim Pernotto is an artist’s artist, a master of his craft and an innovator of the highest order.”

The works in “Merkaba” – the largest of which are 9 feet by 12 feet – provide fodder for contemplation about time and place.

But the exhibit also will make a statement about the abstract artist’s place in Youngstown, and his role in its continuing rebirth as an arts and entertainment center.

“The real importance of this show is not so much with me, but with my relationship with the city of Youngstown,” said Pernotto. “Since I moved into this studio in 1979, Best Art Studio has been an incubator for artists.”

Pernotto’s spacious studio is on the second floor of the Silver’s Vogue Shop building at the corner of West Federal and Phelps streets, downtown.

The artist has long been working to make the visual arts a central piece of the downtown renaissance. He has been working to create a gallery in the Phelps Street windows of the Vogue Shop, and using his nonprofit NEXT Best Art group to raise money to further the cause. He envisions the building becoming a place where NEXT Best Art can operate with a goal of encouraging research in both art and new technologies that align with 3-D printing.

But it has not been easy, and progress has been slow. Now, the very building Pernotto is in is up for sale. Depending on the wishes of a new owner, he might not even be able to maintain his studio there.

For these reasons, Pernotto is seeking to re-establish himself and again get the word out that an arts and entertainment district needs more than just bars and restaurants to draw people, and to make it stand out as a special place.

That is a message he hopes to get out with his Butler exhibition.

“There are three words – Pro Bono Publico – above the doorway at the Butler Institute of American Art,” said Pernotto. “We are at a place as individuals, as a city, a country and world, were we need to decide if things can only be done to maximize profit or for the good of the people.”

Butler Director Louis A. Zona acknowledged Pernotto’s role in the city’s arts community. “[Pernotto] is a real pioneer in the sense that he envisioned that downtown Youngstown could support an art community,” said Zona. “He was there from the start. He’s brought a little bit of New York into our community.”

The fact that his building is up for sale has fueled Pernotto with urgency to renew his efforts.

“Enlightened individuals seem to understand the importance of an art studio and art center at the heart of an art and entertainment district, but as yet, no organization or individual has committed start-up capital,” he said.

“I think the building should be a nonprofit arts center in the middle of the arts district, amid the symphony, the OH WOW! center, the tech incubator, and the river development. ... I don’t want to see it become just another bar.”

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