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.