BUILD WHAT? WHERE?
It's good to see that Renaissance Square hasn't absorbed all of the community's attention, and that planning for other arts venues is back on the table. Of course, the Square might absorb all the money that's going to be available, but we can at least dream about the future.
Excellent fodder for such fantasies can be found in the draft report, "Needs Assessment for New Performing Arts Facilities" by Webb Management Services, issued this month. Yes, they document, there is a need for more facilities for music and theater. We're rich in excellent organizations of all types and sizes to use them. And given our community's demographics and education levels, there would be audiences to fill those spaces. But current audiences are not as big as those numbers suggest, and the report places the blame on the almost universal inadequacy of our facilities.
We have great arts groups. What we lack is proper showcases to support them. The small but vital music groups that I work with get by in lecture halls or large adapted spaces. Many turn to churches for acceptable acoustics and modest cost, but most lack proper seating and other amenities. Places of worship aren't appropriate for all types of programming.
Theatrical productions have more possibilities for adapting spaces, and our troupes certainly work magic in their black boxes. But their audiences also suffer from poor accessibility, amenity, and comfort in places that don't reflect the quality of the group. The few good theaters are either booked, too expensive, or both. This hurts everybody. Without proper venues, our performing-arts community is stuck in a holding pattern, circling substantial audiences, with no places to land.
Build it and they'll come. But build what? And where? The easier answer for the political system is to pick a vacant lot (or create one) and put up an ArtsCenter with a couple of "flexible" spaces. Get some renowned architect to bling it up, somebody rich to put his name on it, some politico's cousin to manage it, and, in one wave of the wand, problem solved.
Unfortunately, these multi-use halls usually suck. A design that works well for theater is terrible for acoustic music and vice versa. Trying to engineer that versatility sends costs spiraling and results in fatal compromises. RPO and Garth Fagan might need the same size venue, but to attempt to support them in the same hall is asking for trouble. Many have tried, and none have achieved the world-class quality that we are shooting for.
So we need four venues, minimum. A home for the RPO, which they can also rent out. A home for Garth Fagan and suchlike performances. A smaller recital hall for chamber music, vocal groups, jazz and folk acts. And a small theater dedicated to just that: theater. The smaller venues have to be inexpensive to rent. They'll require on-going subsidy, but they'll also support the greater number of local groups. Subsidies are inescapable; it's dishonest to speak otherwise.
Where? Downtown, of course. But not under one roof. "Centers" are so 60's. By spreading them out around downtown or in the cultural district, we spread the collateral benefits to the restaurants and clubs nearby, and prevent the new construction from stealing patrons away from existing businesses. And we get the randomized traffic and street life our city needs. If we're going to spend oodles of public money, those side benefits have to be maximized.
What money? Well, $83 million, or whatever the Rochester Broadway Theater League's roadhouse will cost, would be a good start. Not to dis the League and its patrons, but we're talking art here. Musical theater can be artistic, but 2800 seats is way beyond the traditional Broadway house. A theater with 2800 seats is a commercial enterprise, scaled for the imported extravaganzas of Disney and Mr. Lloyd Webber --- for our entertainment, not our involvement. Maybe that's what Rochester wants to support, to the near exclusion of everything else, but don't equate it with the RPO and don't call it "support for the arts."
One more thought: Carnegie Hall has offices above it. So do the Broadway theaters. They help pay for the buildings. We should do that here.
Carl Pultz, Redfern Drive, Rochester
HERE'S 'WHY WEIRD AL'
DaynaPapaleo poses the question: "Who among us has purchased a Weird Al album? ("Why Weird Al? October 11)." She answers the question in her article, saying that he has gone gold three times and platinum six. And since his newest album debuted at Number 10 on the charts, the answer is obviously: a lot of people are buying his albums.
I happen to own all his regular (non-compilation) albums and have gone to two concerts. I even corrupted my son (now 15) by taking him along.
I love to wear one of the shirts I bought at the concert that has Al on it; people usually say, "I thought he died." Nope; he has outlasted most of the one-hit-wonders he parodied, and is still going strong.
My wife and daughter can't see what we like about him. But not everyone has the same taste in music. I would challenge Ms. Papaleo to listen to the original songs from one of his albums; they usually are a "style parody" of another artist; "Dog Eat Dog" (Polka Party) is a style parody of The Talking Heads. I'm sure she would get an appreciation of how much talent Al and his band have, to be able to replicate the sounds of so many different artists.
Tom Eldredge, Middleburg, Florida
THE REAL COLUMBUS
Now that another Columbus Day has been celebrated according to the fairy tale perpetuated on school children, I think it's time we stopped celebrating it. Columbus did not discover America and never set foot on our continent. The Vikings already had settlements here in the 11th century. Columbus landed on San Salvador in 1492 while searching for India in the Caribbean.
But more important is Columbus's tragic legacy, left out of the whitewashed version of events we learned in school. Historians consider him the New World's first slave trader. The atrocities committed by Columbus (and other explorers, who don't have a Federal holiday named after them) were nothing short of genocide.
After failing to find a trade route to India (one of the purposes of his voyage), Columbus set his sights on gold, and enslaved thousands of Indians to mine it. Native inhabitants of the Caribbean, Haiti, and Hispanolia (modern-day Cuba) were among those enslaved, tortured, raped, worked to death, separated from their families, or slaughtered, or who perished due to lack of immunity to foreign diseases introduced by Columbus and his men, sometimes deliberately. (The distribution of smallpox-infected blankets to the natives by explorers is a well-known fact.)
Natives were used as food for hunting dogs, thrown to them alive. Thousands of Arawak Indians were shipped to Spain, a third of them perishing on board ship. Columbus wrote of these facts in his diaries. According to some historians, the Taino Indian tribe became extinct.
A movement has grown among the indigenous peoples of the Americas to spread the truth about Columbus, described by one historian as a "racist killer."
Columbus Day is not a day for celebration. It is a day for mourning.
Rosemary Page, Park Avenue, Rochester
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