University gallery presents “joy, color, life” with new LGBTQIA+ Pride exhibit

September 19, 2023
By: Andrea Binnick

The exhibition features works by 31 regional artists, including two students.

Artist Paul Leone’s intricate, expertly crafted bowl on display in the Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery’s juried Open Doors: A Celebration of Pride exhibition tells a story even more meaningful than the stunning intertwining of silk, bamboo, cotton, threads, and acrylic materials used to create it might suggest at first look.

Leone created the work, “The Jewel of Christopher Street,” last spring after hearing about the passing of an old friend. The profound loss inspired Leone’s featured work in the gallery today as he shares memories of earlier times, particularly the early 1980s during the AIDS epidemic.

“I had a friend of mine who I worked with, a colleague, who at night would go down Christopher Street (in New York City’s West Village) with these plastic shopping bags full of condoms,” Leone says of his late friend Seth, whom he described as having an upbeat and high-spirited personality. “He would be dressed in full drag, and he would go up and down the street handing out condoms to all of the young men and teach them the practices of safe sex. His drag name was Lotta Hope, and he was very positive during a very confusing time when we needed it.”

Leone said that both of his accepted works on display—the beautiful bowl and also a test piece that led to that finished product—are being shown in honor of Seth.

“So these pieces with their silk and jewel tones are how I imagined a more appropriate platter for him to put the condoms on and hand them out,” Leone said.

The gallery features Leone’s symbolic pieces and 45 additional works that encompass anything reflecting pride in the LGBTQIA+ community through October 14 during gallery hours or by appointment in the Ghosh Science and Technology Center following an open call for art made over the summer. The show, which Gallery Director Stacey Parker describes as being full of “joy, color, and life,” is free and open to the community and part of Worcester Pride’s calendar of events.

As the exhibition’s first guests viewed the works on the opening night of September 7, a powerful theme became apparent. Each of the 47 accepted works by 31 regional artists seems to be accompanied by its own moving story.

Luca Nova Webb, an artist who was first introduced to Worcester State’s gallery with an invitation to showcase work in the fall 2022 Woo Town Funk show of contemporary art, features three works in the current exhibit. On opening night for Open Doors, Webb, who is known for featuring quotes or typography within work, bravely shared some of the meanings behind the words.

“F#ck Around and Find Out” by artist Luca Nova Webb emerged from a hate crime the artist experienced.

“The piece ‘Fuck Around and Find Out’ was kind of a process response piece to a hate crime I experienced a few years ago,” Webb said. “ I was at work and it was something I had experienced before, but it was such an audacious moment in my life and this was really the piece that helped me get through that.”

“The ‘Queer as in Fuck the System’ piece is one I did around the same time,” added Webb, who has a growing art therapy practice for trans and non-binary individuals following years of work in hospitals and the mental health system. “It encapsulated my experience with the system that is the mental health system, judicial system, educational system, anything, and how we as queer people are affected by the missteps.”

“Portrait of Prosperity,” Webb’s third work, featuring bright pink and gold dollar signs, brings the artist back to childhood days when Andy Warhol served as “the first really big influence.” The art gives a nod to Warhol’s style and “solidifies how me and my own gender could provide for myself,” particularly following a childhood in a conservative region of the south, Webb said.

“Portrait of Prosperity” by artist Luca Nova Webb

Following those childhood years, the artist earned a master’s degree in art therapy from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and is presently in the process of moving a private art studio into a larger space to accommodate more clients and offer more workshops and group gatherings for the greater Worcester community.

“In a month or so, a full, open space will be running again.”

Artists David Wesley White and Shannon McGinty, a Worcester State alum, served as jurors for Open Doors, while Parker and Assistant Gallery Director Brad Chapman Bleau, a Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) adjunct professor, teamed up to hang and arrange the art.

“We’re really happy to be able to put the show on and give this incredible community a platform to share their ideas and the great pieces they created to really show their pride,” Chapman Bleau said on opening night.

For Chapman Bleau, a popular local artist in his own right, the new academic year has marked a particularly busy time as he features work in ArtsWorcester’s Material Needs 2023, an exhibition on display a couple of miles across town through October 29 in the ArtsWorcester Main Galleries at 44 Portland Street. Over the past 10 years, ArtsWorcester’s Material Needs grants have supported the expenses of supplies and materials for 89 artists and their creation of new art in Worcester County.

For more information on the opportunity to view Worcester State VPA’s Open Doors, visit, email the gallery at, or call 508-929-8651.

Worcester State VPA’s Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery offers five main exhibits interspersed with shorter term events throughout the year. The gallery invites artists in all stages of their careers along with our faculty and students to exhibit works that explore the established, edgy, and innovative ideas in the artistic world.

“Opening channels for artistic expression is at the heart of the work of VPA, and we’re grateful to Open Doors artists and organizers alike for their important work that reflects pride in the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Worcester State VPA Chair Sam O’Connell, professor of theatre and interdisciplinary arts. “The gallery’s fall show marks a wonderful jumpstart to our academic year, and we look forward to an exciting season with our visual and performing arts students as they engage in experiential learning, their audiences, and our greater community. We welcome area residents to visit our state-of-the-art gallery for this powerful show.”

Top photo: Artist Paul Leone’s “The Jewel of Christopher Street” is on exhibit in the new Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery show, Open Doors.

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