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OpenART Studios

 The Creative Life of Maria Parrella-ilaria

meet the artist

Maria Parrella-ilaria (o/a OpenArt Studios) is a community-engaged visual artist, art therapist and arts educator who has worked 20+ years employing the arts as tools for social engagement, transformation and entrepreneurship. Parrella-ilaria combined her early training in contemporary fine arts practices and art education (1980-84 OCAD/1985-88Concordia) to pursue graduate training in art psychotherapy (MA/1989-93 Concordia) which fostered a profound understanding of the role and efficacy of the arts in nurturing social interconnectedness.

Upon returning to Sault Ste. Marie, ON in the mid 90’s, she opened the Sault's first 'art cafe', the award-winning Fireball Coffee'n Arts House (1995-2001) and freelanced for CBC Radio--Points North, writing/producing the 'Fireball Chronicles--tales from a Northern Cafe'. She developed art therapy/art-as-therapy programs for a number of local social service agencies and continues to offer therapeutic services to women in recovery at the Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre (Ministry of CSCS/Solicitor General). She developed/taught visual arts curriculum for over 18yrs at Sault College and was Co-ordinator of Fine Arts Studies at both Algoma U and Lake Superior State University, MI as well as a sessional instructor at both.

She developed the ArtReach Program for Youth (Art Gallery of Algoma/Huron Superior & Algoma Public School Boards, 2005-2011with Laurie Kerrin Carlyle) which brought  together visiting professional artists and grade 11&12 high school students in hands-on studio sessions; researched/developed/taught the Creative Arts in Therapy Post-Graduate Diploma, 2008-11, for Sault College’s School of Continuing Education which introduced professionals to the use of the arts in therapeutic practice.  From 2016-18, she was lead developer and project co-ordinator for The ArtSpeaks Project, an Ontario Trillium Foundation funded pilot-project using arts-based learning and cultural mentorship in fostering greater resiliency in women dealing with trauma due to addictions, sexual violence and mental health challenges; this project was supported by Breton House, Phoenix Rising, SAH’s Sexual Assault Care Centre and the SSM Museum. In January 2019 she launched the ArtSpeaks ArtHive, a community arts studio offering non-clinical art-as-therapy sessions and partnered with community-engaged artist Lisa Meschino as Hive co-facilitators. The ArtSpeaks ArtHive is funded by SAH’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, Breton House and the Sault Ste. Marie Museum (which also serves as the home for the ArtHive). Visit for more info on these initiatives. 

In recent years, Maria has focused more intently on her arts practice, participating in international art collectives such as the Sketchbook Project/Brooklyn, NY, while locally, employing photography and natural materials/consumer objects in the creation of visual journals and site-specific works exploring memory/personal history, loss and desire. Her images have been used on CD and book covers and are held in any number of private collections worldwide.  Additionally she has designed and created jewellery--sterling silver, waxed linen, mixed stone--under the name OpenArt Designs. Parrella-ilaria currently lives in Sault Ste. Marie, ON,  with husband--writer/musician,  MD Dunn.

Contact: OpenARTStudios (at) Hotmail (.) com


Journal pages above from 'Monocular Stitch'n Time', created January-March 2019 for the Sketchbook Project, Brooklyn NY.

All content, videos, photographs, design works are Copyright © 2010-present Maria Parrella-ilaria/OpenArt Studios/OpenART Designs. All rights reserved.


                                 Installation Video of mancanza/abbondanza--Art Gallery of Algoma 2011

Installation view of 'mancanza/abbondanza' (Italian for 'loss/bounty') by Maria Parrella-ilaria, sculptural works with digital projection and sound loop featuring text from Ben Okri's "The Famished Road" (1991), installed at the Art Gallery of Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie, Canada  from Feb. 17 - May 1, 2011, part of the group exhibit Cycles. Video documentation by Stephen Lang.

The work is an exploration of grief in relation to personal loss, specifically miscarriage. The sculptural elements have bases filled with seeds from the North--horse chestnuts, milkweed pods, acorns, and pine cones. The houses emit a light, revealing a red glass heart suspended within, save for one house which is lit by a flickering candle, revealing a winged form taking flight. Each house bears markings of the prominent constellations of the northern sky and the vases below are filled with fresh flowers every 8 days. The digital projection is based on a 24 hr day--architectural images relate to 12 hours of darkness, colourful organic images correspond to 12 hours of daylight. The sound loop, created in collaboration with Stephen Lang and MD Dunn,  incorporates the heart beats of two individuals, layered with a repeated guitar tone/note and a female voice reading an excerpt from Ben Okri's The Famished Road. The wall pieces in the video are mixed media paintings which incorporate acrylics, india ink, acrylic inks, glitter, instant photos, and text.

As a companion piece to the installation, the mannequin-based sculpture "We are all star-stuff..." (as seen above under 'Selected Works'), was created in the fall of 2017 and contains remnants--seeds, dried petals/stems, a photo--from the 2011 installation. Read the Artist Statement here.

                              (my) hidden nature--a visual journal, 2013 at the Camera Craft Gallery, SSM.

         installation view--June, July, August, (my)hidden nature (2013) at Camera Craft Gallery, Sault Ste. Marie, ON

The exhibit consisted of 12 b&w images, one taken each month, depicting the change of seasons on a hidden, elevated garden deck. The large format b&w images were accompanied by colour images showing close ups of different aspects of life in the garden. All images were taken and edited on an HTC One S smartphone. Read the Artist Statement here.


installation views--left--September, October / right--February, March, April, (my) hidden nature (2013), Camera Craft Gallery, Sault Ste. Marie, ON

In October 2014, a second visual journal exhibit was installed at CCG, this time reflecting on how the artist's mother had impacted the development and demise of the garden, as she had left the garden over a decade before and had died in March of 2014. This follow-up work, 'Nestled (in my mother's garden)' included an interactive aspect in that once weekly during the run of the show, the artist remained in the exhibition space and altered works that were on display by contributing text/journaling on the mats of selected pieces. Read the Artist Statement here.


'she loved these,' 'parsley shadows' and 'passage--altered with text' from Nestled (in my mother's garden) (2014), Camera Craft Gallery, Sault Ste. Marie, ON


Interviews & Links

To see more work, check out the following links:

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