A coalition of local community leaders called Arts in the Loop hopes to help revitalize downtown Rochester through the arts.
Members of the group's executive committee include artists, city and county government officials, and representatives from local businesses, arts institutions, and universities. Among them: the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, Wegmans, the Rochester International Jazz Festival, Geva Theatre, the Eastman School of Music, and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The group hasn't come up with a specific plan. Instead, it's seeking community input through an online survey at artsintheloop.com. The questions are typical of surveys like this one: "What arts, entertainment, nightlife, and special events have you attended in Downtown Rochester?" for instance, with a long list of choices. "What arts, entertainment, nightlife, and special events would you like there to be more of in Downtown Rochester?"
"We don't want to define what this mission is," says executive committee member James Doser, director of the Eastman School's Institute for Music Leadership. "We want to be the conduit to help articulate what this vision would be from our community. So it's not us saying, This is what ought to happen. It's us saying, Here are some things that have worked in other places." The group wants feedback, Doser said, on what is considered unique in Rochester "and what might succeed here."
Initially, Arts in the Loop researched other US cities as models for vibrant arts programming. The group found five common denominators for success, Doser says: a distinctive identity, the existence of "creative clusters" where the arts could thrive, diversity in programming, the presence of community stakeholders to support the programming, and artist entrepreneurship training. Doser points out Grand Rapids in particular for the effectiveness of its community involvement. In Grand Rapids, residents create, curate, and produce arts programming.
Arts in the Loop also got feedback by visiting the cities it researched and talking to its community members. In those conversations, Doser learned that Rochester already has artistic resources and infrastructure that other cities initially lacked, he said, but that Rochester has yet to figure out how to organize them and collaborate.
"The biggest challenge is trust," Doser says, "trust between individual artists and arts organizations, trust between developers and communities, trust between city and county government, trust between universities. We're very good at siloing ourselves. I think Rochester has made great strides in breaking down silos, but we still like to live in our own worlds."
That said, Rochester does have local examples of vital community engagement through the arts, Doser says. He cites WALL\THERAPY, the Rochester International Jazz Festival, and the Rochester Fringe Festival – "types of activities that completely change the landscape," he says.
The group is planning a two-day symposium for June 5 and 6, which will include opportunities for public participation. Local artist Shawn Dunwoody, who is also on Arts in the Loop's executive committee, says it's important to address concerns like health services and housing for artists, and to do it through legislation at the city and county levels.
"A lot of our arts and culture were supported by large companies at one point in time," Dunwoody says, "so we figured, if it's coming from the big box, that's the way it needs to flow, and this is what's good. But if you're reaching out to communities, there are a lot of great creators, composers, makers that are out there." The public may not see all of them exhibiting or performing often, Dunwoody says, but they do have needs – "and have a need to express themselves, and have a voice in this community."