You can tell if a city is thriving based on its art scene, and the city of Rochester is lacking in this regard. The arts are thriving in the underground community of artists, but the connection to the rest of the city is tentative at best. 

One of the main complaints that I hear about Rochester is that there isn’t more to do, especially at night. Ideally, the arts would be the focal point of downtown Rochester, with theatre and galleries and productions. Currently, because of taxes and increase in rent, the arts are being pushed out of downtown. As much as the city says they want the arts, their actions so far have shown otherwise. The Creative Salon which hosted many art exhibits, concerts, etc closed its doors on good terms to make way for new development. SEMVA had to give up their space because the rent was too much. Words Players was forced to close. And while those who are part of the arts organizations of C4, Words Players and also SEMVA have been actively searching for new homes, the city has not been of much help in actively procuring space for arts.

In discussing the state of the arts in Rochester with various people, whether native or visiting, many of those who have visited the art center have found it lacking at best in variety. Many feel that it has an air of inaccessibility. This was confirmed in a very real sense for local artists when the arts center was petitioned to be the space for the annual Women’s Art Show in 2016 (also known as La Notte Delle Tre) and was turned down. The show was held at the Creative Salon in previous years, with performance art and visual art that celebrates women. The show, which usually takes place in March, is postponed until a space can be procured. 

Although the city hasn’t been much help in regards to helping the art scene thrive, many local businesses have provided space for artists to show their work. Cafe Steam has local art on exhibit and hosts open mic (previously held at the Creative Salon) every Thursday night. Forager Brewery is home to Gallery 24, and provides two separate space where artists show their work. There’s also a marketplace for local vendors, and they have live music. Dunn Brothers keeps local art on their walls as well. And recently, Bucky Beeman provided the space for a group of local artists to host an exhibit called “Ordinary Life,” which was a huge success in the community. 

There is a lot of potential for growth in Rochester and in how the city incorporates art. But when most of the people making the decision about what happens for art in Rochester aren’t artists, there is bound to be a disconnect. Most of the arts in Rochester are also funded privately and this is also not OK. This takes the power out of the hands of the artists and the community in general. Smaller towns that surround Rochester have a more established art scene, and that says something. 

I don’t think the people of Rochester want Rochester to be just like Minneapolis or Saint Paul, except in regard to opportunity and space for all different kinds of artists to thrive. We like being unique. Rochester needs to have its own identity, separate from the cities, which shouldn’t be limited to the medical community. Its identity also needs to include a real respect for art, a real respect for local artists and what we contribute (drawing on the talents within the community), and for new ideas. 


9 thoughts on “What Art Scene?

  1. Why isn’t our art center displaying more local art? Seems a large building and is all the space being utilized? Times I have been there it seems there could be more displays. It isn’t a very welcoming place.


  2. I feel, and add was somewhat stated in your blog post, there are currently numerous venues for local art, such as Forager, Cafe Steam, etc. I personally appreciate the RAC for bringing in regional, national, and international art. My sin and I greatly enjoy the Family Free events each month as well as other events hosted. For example the Day of the Dead Poets Slam.


    1. The venues are not specifically dedicated for the arts, they are restaurants and coffee shops. The businesses that host local artists are a great benefit to Rochester and the artists of Rochester, and it’s amazing the way that they show their support by incorporating local art, but it is not enough for a thriving art scene nor does it have same impact as having dedicated space for the arts/arts organizations. The armory and the old chateau would be great spaces for the arts (visual, musical, theatre, etc) in Rochester. With a dedicated space there would also be more opportunity for community ed classes and professional development classes. I know that C4 would eventually like to develop a curriculum especially for youth artists. And while the RAC does offer some things, it is in my opinion (and others who I have spoken with) majorly lacking.


  3. Please pardon all of my typos in my comment above. Auto correct seems to have plagued me in my haste.
    While I can sense disappointment from a show being turned down, I don’t think it’s fair to expect the RAC to completely open up for the local collective group. That, as was suggested above by you, would be better housed in the Chateau or otherwise.


    1. The example of the show being turned down was one example of the inaccessibility of the RAC, and it wasn’t personal. The complaint about the RAC lacking variety and being inaccessible is widespread. Why is it not fair to expect the RAC to be open for local artist exhibits? The RAC barely houses any art at all. What exactly is the purpose of the art center, then? I would expect that if the RAC continues as it does, and if the armory and chateau do end up housing arts, that the RAC will fall even further out of relevance.


  4. Hello, just a quick response in the midst of a busy day. First, Jessica, I appreciate that you take the time and initiative to create this forum for discussion of the arts in Rochester, bravo.
    That said, I feel like the (temporary?) displacement of C-4/Creative Salon as a venue has caused many of the people who considered that space a second home to feel like there isn’t really a space for the endeavors that space once hosted. That feeling is correct, I believe.There isn’t another venue around Rochester that will allow almost any art project to use their space for a very minimal deposit and extremely informal contract.
    There is some amount of transposing or attempting to transpose events that once took place at the Creative Salon to the Rochester Art Center, with mixed results.
    The thing that I try to keep in mind is the very different nature and practices of the RAC and the Creative Salon.
    The CS , while being very open in it’s booking policies, practiced no sort of curatorial rigor or discretion, any art was allowed, regardless of it’s quality or political pov, which, for it’s specific constituency, was great.
    The Rochester Art Center is very different in the way that it functions. The curatorial process is extremely rigorous and thought out and it’s vision is not just local, but national and indeed global in it’s scope and ambition.
    These are just a couple of the ways that the RAC and C-4 are very different.
    To expect these two very different and worthy arts entities to be perceived as similar, I feel, unrealistic.
    As far as the RAC being perceived as inaccessible, well, admission to the RACs exhibitions is, free, you can’t get much more accessible than that.
    As far as local artists and their various endeavors, I feel that the RAC is very welcoming of ideas from local artists and organizers. Not every idea will be a good fit for the RAC and it’s mission. I find this completely understandable and in fact desirable. By holding itself and it’s partnering artists and organizers to high standards the RAC raises the local standards of professionalism and artistic accomplishment, thus benefitting the patrons and audiences of and for the arts in our community.
    Did I say quick response ?
    Well, sorry.
    Ok, thoughts ? Questions ?
    Thanks -ds


    1. Hi Danny,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. The purpose of the post was the lack of arts venues and a thriving art scene in Rochester as a whole, not to make an argument that the RAC be a free-for-all. My commentary on the RAC was supplemental to the rest of the post (which is about the lack of a thriving, visible art scene in Rochester), not the bedrock of it.

      But regarding the RAC (since that was the basis of your comment), in my opinion it fails at its mission as stated on their website. If I felt my criticism of the RAC was mine alone I wouldn’t have mentioned it. But considering all of the people I talk to on a daily basis, locals and visitors alike, I felt it pertinent to share the criticism that is voiced by many. I understand that we have different views on the RAC and while the RAC has its place (however limited), it certainly isn’t enough for a real art scene in Rochester. Nor was my criticism of its accessibility about cost. I understand that after you had a successful event there with the Day of the Dead Poets Slam (congrats by the way, that’s awesome!) there is gratitude, however, I don’t feel that’s enough to turn a blind eye to the lack of local variety (and by variety I do not mean unprofessional and subpar work).


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