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Charlotte Square development funds public art

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Figuring out the aesthetics of a city isn't a small thing. Developers putting money into downtown Rochester should take a page from Home Leasing LLC, which commissioned public art to accompany its Charlotte Square project in the East End. A new sculpture by Kevin Dartt, which can be seen day or night due to a lighted component, was recently installed on Charlotte Street at the termination of Winthrop.

Dartt's sculpture was formally presented last Friday, December 2, when Home Leasing gave a party for the residents of Charlotte Square — there are about 20 families who have moved into the 74 unit building so far. Dartt's work is visible from Hart's Grocers, and even further down, from East Avenue.

The sculpture, "Roc City Wheat," an oversized stalk of the grain with LED lights installed in its yellow acrylic kernels, is a nod to Rochester's history as the Flour City, but also to our leadership in innovation and industry, Dartt says. The roots of the green steel stalk sprout out of a map of Monroe County's 17 townships.

"It's a sign that Rochester is much more than the city; it encompasses a larger area of Monroe County," Dartt says. "It's a nod to Rochester's historical roots in farming industry. But also it has this mechanical, technological aesthetic to it, so it's also a nod to the future of Rochester and how it's more of a tech city right now."

The organic and geometric aesthetics, which together give the piece an Art Deco look, represent the combination of agriculture and high-tech industries of our region.

Home Leasing Marketing Director Maggie Ridge says the company is excited to take part in the organic renaissance that is happening in downtown Rochester. "We feel very strongly that public art should be an integral part of this emerging landscape," she says.

The company's Executive Vice President, Kim Russell, asked art appraiser Roz Goldman to initiate a public sculpture commission in what will be a public pocket park — designed by Rochester group SWBR Architects — adjacent to the Charlotte Square residences. Dartt's sculpture will be the centerpiece of the park, which will be completed at a later date.

Goldman was a logical person to tap for the project — she has long been a proponent not only of public art in Rochester, but also of the art being selected by juries filled with community members like artists, engineers, architects, business owners, and other stakeholders. She was hands-on in the effort to get major artworks commissioned and installed (and re-installed) in the Greater Rochester International Airport, and she worked with Jean Geisel and a committee to install works by Wendell Castle, Albert Paley, Leonard Urso, and others in and outside of the Bausch & Lomb building. She's also led the charge for art being installed in her Grove Place neighborhood and in Erie Harbor.

The call for art proposals was sent out to a 17-county spread surrounding Rochester, using the same regional span that the Memorial Art Gallery uses for its Finger Lakes Exhibition, Goldman says. The jury received proposals from "15 excellent applicants, all professional artists," she says. "It was not easy; we had really good proposals, and they were diverse."

A meeting with the artists who submitted proposals was held at Press Coffee in June, and the jury selected finalists in July. On August 12, Dartt was announced as the winner.

The jury, overseen by Goldman, consisted of architect Rob Fornataro, Hart's manager and co-owner Colleen Griffin-Underhill, Megan Houppert of Home Leasing, artist Bill Stewart, and art consultant and archivist Amy Vena. It's crucial that members of the public have input in public sculpture, Goldman says.

"Beyond the park, toward the filled-in end of the Inner Loop, Home Leasing will build townhouses for sale," Goldman says. "Beyond those, they will be creating a project of affordable housing. So a lot of people will be using this park."

Dartt has an undergraduate degree in engineering and a masters in sculpture. His technical expertise, in addition to his design, contributed to the selection of his proposal, Goldman says.

This is his second sculptural installation to hit Rochester's East End this year: in June, his fountain sculpture "What You Put In" was the first of an ongoing series of temporary installations by different artists, selected by Rochester Contemporary Art Center for the park next to the center.

Rochester is one of the only "with-it" cultural cities that does not have a percent-for-art rule, Goldman laments. "And the county doesn't do it either. It's a travesty, because if you're spending $45-$50 million on a project, 1 percent could do spectacular things."

Home Leasing reps say the company hopes to incorporate public art in its future Rochester developments. And Goldman intends to keep up her impassioned fight for good public art. We have too many boring, ugly streets, she says. "There's no reason for people to come downtown and walk. We have the talent here to change that, but there's no understanding here of what public art can do. It's jobs for artists. And economically, it changes the area in which you're placing it."

What do you think of Dartt's sculpture? Should more development projects reserve funds for public art? Leave your comments below this article.

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