Thanks to all who joined us for the Dialogue at the Rochester Public Library last night -- one of our best-attended ever. The room was packed to the gills and people, as always, came prepared to talk.
Thank you to the arts leaders who joined me at the head table also: Andy Westreich, of SEMVA; Bari Amadio, CEO of the Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust; Patrick Seeb, director of economic development and placemaking for DMC's Economic Development Agency; Megan Johnston, Rochester Art Center executive director; Gregory Stavrou, Rochester Civic Theatre executive director; Audrey Betcher, Rochester Public Library director; Steve Schmidt, executive director of the city's music department; and Jere Lantz, CEO and music director of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale.
Though I was up and about with the microphone for much of the evening and couldn't take notes, here are eight takeaways from what I heard:
Big things are just ahead for arts and culture in Rochester: This may seem obvious, but there's a strong feeling (again, based on comments at the meeting, including from leaders of key organizations) that we're on the cusp of a transformation of the local arts scene. The challenge will be to channel it and maximize it, and that will take genuine collaboration and listening by DMC, city and arts leadership, artists and audience.
The former Armory (Rochester Senior Center) building is a giant opportunity: The city owns it, it owns the adjacent parking lots now, and it already has features that would make it work as an arts center. As a familiar, beloved historic building on Broadway, it's a dream come true for this type of center.
The future of Rochester arts isn't just downtown: Several people said the future growth in arts organizations, venues and space won't occur only in downtown. That's also obvious -- there aren't that many buildings or sites available in or close to downtown, and Mayo and DMC-related growth will certainly gobble up more than their share of downtown space. But we don't have a warehouse district, we don't have a Lowertown or Torpedo Factory like St. Paul and Alexandria, Va., and we barely have any historic buildings close to downtown. Where will that future arts growth occur?
Arts leaders insist they're all working together: They tended to protest too much, in fact, that they're all on the same page. It was striking that more than a few people insisted there are no conflicts between arts groups such as the Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust and the Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative, or disagreements about the suitability of the remodelled Presentation Hall at Mayo Civic Center.
There's no big pot of money for arts coming from DMC: An audience member asked about the "1 percent" of DMC-related spending that would be put aside for arts, and I've heard from others that they think there's a windfall coming for the arts. There's no such mandated 1 percent in the DMC statute; Mayor Ardell Brede noted that the statute says public officials "may" choose to prioritize that spending, but that's it.
At best, a plan for the Chateau Theatre is a year away: ...and that's on a fast track, said a few of the committee members working on that "visioning process." When I asked when we'll be able to catch a show or movie or whatever will be available at the Chateau, nobody offered a guess.
There's no one-stop navigation point for Rochester arts: An audience member asked where an artist or arts consumer can go to navigate what's available and how to access it. There are plenty of publications and websites available, including ours, but there's no one contact point in the local arts community that brings all this together.
It all comes down to the artists: All the planning in the world won't change the fact that the city has to be an attractive place for artists to live and work. Stavrou made some great comments about how local artists need to stay focused on their art as the priority. They need to stay fearless and passionate in pursuing their vision; that's what will make local art compelling, and audiences and patrons will find them.