Art Works Blog

MICD 25 Spotlight on City of Rochester

Rochester, New York

The art trail will transform a series of underused spaces into public amenities, including a major new sculpture park, where a city sidewalk illuminates from within at night and is heavily embedded with audio and new media content contributed by residents of all backgrounds. Photo rendering courtesy Bayer Associates

Rochester, New York, is the third largest city in the state, with a population of about 220,000 and a metropolitan area topping one million. In an effort to connect cultural destinations and serve as a cultural hub for the region, the City of Rochester (partnering with many private and public organizations) created ARTWalk, an interactive urban art trail, with public artworks and artfully deisgned park benches and bus stops. We spoke with Project Director Paul R. Way to learn more about Rochester's plan to enhance the art trail.

NEA: Please tell us about your project and what you hope it will bring to the city of Rochester.

PAUL WAY: The City of Rochester is leading a cluster of cultural and educational organizations to create an outdoor urban art trail that connects them, so that all together the project creates a cultural hub for the region. Four large-scale anchoring sculptures by nationally acclaimed artists are linked by more than a dozen smaller public artworks in a series of interactive public plazas and walkways. In order to broaden community engagement, build social capital, and diversify audiences for art, even the sidewalks will be embedded with artistic content---stories, poetry, audio and video recordings, and imagery.

Working with the community, this project is turning introverted cultural institutions ?inside out,? creating open, engaging, inviting public experiences to support and connect all of them. By creating a series of interactive, 24/7 artworks, nodes, and gathering areas, the project will foster creative engagement as a vital force in Rochester. Goals are to reinforce the region?s competitive ability to attract and retain knowledge-based workers, jobs, and investment, help knit the community together, support education and literacy, build ties between sectors, and ensure equitable access to cultural resources---all part of Rochester's long-term permanent revitalization. It will help reclaim the city's historic identity as a center for creativity and social, technological, and artistic innovation.

Partner organizations in the project include ARTWalk of Rochester, the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, the Creative Workshop, the Visual Studies Workshop, Writers & Books, the Rochester Museum and Science, the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Village Gate, and Anderson Alley Artists.

NEA: Why is it important to have arts and culture at the table when planning community revitalization efforts?

WAY: Culture helps cities thrive. Research shows that arts and culture engage people like few other aspects of community life. Arts and culture have the power to energize and transform a city's image and its sense of identity. Culture brings people together around shared experiences---think of the atmosphere at a successful community music festival. Public art and urban design are a permanent, public form of creativity; they thus can have a long range, cumulative impact. Revitalization efforts can be much more effective if culture is an integrated component.

NEA: How do you think ARTWalk benefits the civic life of your community?

WAY: This urban art trail engaged the community directly in its creation and development, reflecting a collaborative group dynamic and many collective identities and voices in its design. Interconnected spaces with innovative landmarks connecting leading museums and educational institutions---this makes a very rich, multi-faceted destination that encourages ongoing exploration and repeated visits. It is a new "common ground" for the community, a place where you can rub shoulders with other people of different ages and backgrounds. Maybe you like or dislike the same artwork---either way, a connection is made, and this constant mixing helps build ties across divisions of all kinds. Studies show that engagement in the arts builds social capital like few other components of civic life.

Public art attracts massive attention and has a broader public impact than many other forms of art---if only because it is so much more visible and accessible than art in a museum or gallery. It is a bridge experience that gets more people interested in art in general. Studies show this has a measurable, sustainable impact on community health and welfare.

NEA: Given the nature of your project, how do you define the term ?public art??

WAY: Public art is a collective experience of one-of-a-kind artistic visions that were designed and created for specific public spaces. Public art is the engagement of artists where the time, resources, and interest of the community are also engaged. It is a sign of a community's maturity, vision, and values. It demonstrates civic pride, and it reinforces the idea of belonging, diversity, ongoing enrichment, and life-long learning.

Public art makes a space livable by humanizing it, by expressing hidden histories or meaning, widening horizons, exposing people to entirely new and fresh perspectives, by welcoming them into a larger reality that they are also a part of. The impact of a strong work of public art is beyond price and it only grows with time.

NEA: How important is MICD 25 funding for the success of your project?

WAY: A broad range of project partners are all taking significant risks and rising above endless challenges to help build this collective vision. MICD 25 affirmed the entire partnership and its goals. Being named one of the top four grants in the nation is a significant achievement that has certainly bolstered the group dynamic. The funding is critical to support the permanent anchoring sculptures, from footings to lighting to the cost of the artwork itself.

NEA: Any last words?

Rochester has long been known as a capital of imaging, optics, learning, culture, and innovation. Like many northern cities it has faced many challenges.  But Rochester continues to be a vibrant, thriving community and this project is just one more demonstration that by pulling together and by harnessing the power of its history and collective imagination, Rochester can keep reinventing and re-energizing itself. The strengths of this community are the bedrock on which this project is built. Finally, on behalf of Rochester, I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the National Endowment for the Arts for sharing our vision by helping Rochester make the expansion of this urban art trail a reality.

Interested in how other communities are using their MICD 25 grants? Just search the Art Works blog under "MICD 25" and visit the MICD 25 page on our website.

Add new comment