At the beginning of the shutdown, museums, galleries, and other arts organizations faced the challenge of inventing creative ways to engage audiences without being able to pull them into physically-presented exhibitions.
Although New York gave the go-ahead for art galleries and museums to reopen in late June, there's nothing normal about the upcoming arts season. Some institutions are presenting exhibitions and other events (while observing and enforcing recommended physical distancing and hygiene practices), but others haven't solidified plans for reopening. And some have adopted a hybrid model of presenting shows by-appointment supplemented with virtual talks, screenings, and other events.
And the financial impact of the shutdown has been greatly felt by artists and institutions, renewing lamentations among them about the lack of a safety net for the arts. In May, the Memorial Art Gallery announced an appeal to help assuage an anticipated $50,000 deficit.
Smaller venues have suffered also; some have gone entirely quiet since March, with no sign of offering programming again. The Baobab Cultural Center, which was perhaps the first local cultural casualty of COVID-19, closed its University Avenue venue at the end of July with no plans to reopen the space. Additionally, The Out Alliance's closure means that its resident Gallery Q is out of commission also.
The following is a look at how arts and cultural venues, large and small, have coped with the shutdown, and what exhibitions and programming they've been able to secure for the coming months. Scheduled shows and events are subject to change, so look for updates at venues' websites and at roccitynews.org.
The major players
In response to the shutdown, the Memorial Art Gallery (500 University Avenue) held onto its main exhibition, "The Path to Paradise: Judith Schaechter's Stained-Glass Art," which opened in February and was scheduled to run through May. Now that the MAG has reopened, visitors can see the jewel-like show in-person through September 13.
In terms of upcoming exhibitions, the MAG's major fall-into-winter show is a crowd-pleaser: "Andy Warhol Portfolios: A Life in Pop" (October 25 through March 28, 2021). It will feature a broad range of the artist's screen-printed imagery of pop takes on celebrity and commercialism, created between 1964 and 1985. Also coming up in 2021 is "'The 613' — Archie Rand," an exploration of the major mural project and book by the Brooklyn-based painter and muralist, which weaves together comic and pulp fiction imagery to interpret and illuminate each of the 613 Jewish commandments.
Despite reopening its doors (with a limited capacity) in late June, the MAG announced this summer that its major autumn event, the Clothesline Festival, will be presented entirely online, spanning an entire week from September 12-18. There is no admission fee, though donations are encouraged and patrons can, as always, purchase the annual Clothesline Festival T-shirt, this year designed by local street-art darling Dellarious. 276-8900; mag.rochester.edu.
The George Eastman Museum (900 East Avenue) reopened to the public in late July, a bit later than other museums due to construction on its new Thomas Tischer Visitor Center. Eastman's Dryden Theatre remains closed for the time being, but is presenting streaming films via its Virtual Dryden.
With diminished capacities in each gallery and other pandemic precautions in place, Eastman's current roundup of exhibitions includes "Gathering Clouds: Photographs from the Nineteenth Century and Today" (Main Galleries, through January 3, 2021), dramatic and glorious imagery of clouds made by international, prominent photographers from the 1800s through today.
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- A large, layered inkjet print by James Welling, part of George Eastman Museum's "James Welling: Choreograph," on view in the Project Gallery through January 2.
Also currently on view is "James Welling: Choreograph" (Project Gallery, through January 2, 2021), Welling's recent series of large inkjet prints layered with images of dance, architecture, and landscape that create a playful push-and-pull tension of color and spatial relationships. And through January 3, the History of Photography Gallery features photos and objects from the museum's collections commemorating the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and documents feminist and social justice movements since the suffrage era.
Coming up in 2021 is "Journey into the Unknown," a major retrospective of the seven-decades of work by Rochester-based photographer Carl Chiarenza (January 22-June 6), and "Stacey Steers: Night Reels (2020)," an exhibition of handcrafted paper collages used to create Steers' surreal, early-film-star-populated animations (February 5-June 27). And rather than hosting gatherings, Eastman is presenting its artist and curator talks virtually for now. 271-3361; eastman.org.
Rochester Contemporary Art Center (137 East Avenue) was one of the institutions that voluntarily shut its doors early in the pandemic, although it has continued its programming and connected with audiences in a robust variety of ways. Putting its indoor exhibition schedule on pause, the venue moved a screen and speakers to its East Avenue-facing windows and presented media installations on specific days and times for passersby.
These included the pilot project "Roc City Speaks," a series of street interviews with city residents about coping with the realities of racial injustice against Black people amid the COVID-19 pandemic, co-produced by Rashaad Parker, Darien Lamen, Rajesh Barnabas, Cocoa Rae David, Kylie Newcomer, and Juliana Muniz (on view through September 2).
"Roc City Speaks" will continue through the fall and winter with a new set of screenings of new interviews, with a goal to produce eight editions in total. The screenings will remain accessible from the sidewalks, essentially functioning as public art installations during their run. When each next edition is ready, the past chapter will go live online, and become part of a public library archive documenting this summer's Black Lives Matter actions and other activities around justice.
RoCo also presented a successful all-virtual "6x6" in June and July, and continued its public arts engagement with "Underpin and Overcoat," an installation of oversized pins with social messages (continuing through November 30) created and installed by Amelia Toelke and Andrea Miller, in collaboration with local artists.
Indoor exhibitions return to RoCo with "Trust, but verify" (September 4 through November 14), a group show originally slated for April but postponed due to the shutdown. The exhibition consists of three monumental projects that address the ways our society is grappling with the concepts of truth and trust. The components are structured around the past (Octavio Abundez's "A Fake History of Humanity"), the present (Eric Kunsman's "Fake News"), and the future (Bill Posters and Daniel Howe's glimpse into possible scenario where we are controlled and corrupted by 'deep fake' technology, artificial intelligence, and the currency of personal data). Considering the exhibition's political themes, it's even more timely to host the show now, as we approach the presidential election, says Rochester Contemporary Executive Director Bleu Cease.
RoCo will host an in-person opening for "Trust, but verify" on September 4, but is asking visitors to sign up for a viewing time online ahead of opening night. And the artists' talks on September 5 will be presented over Zoom.
Taking place in tandem with "Trust, but verify" is the reopening of RoCo's smaller exhibition room, the LAB Space, which will host Andrew Zimbelman's "The Subway Series." RoCo also plans to host its 30th annual Members Exhibition (December 4 through January 10, 2021), which is a salon-style showcase and sale of artwork by the center's members.
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- “When There's So Many Haters…” (2019) still by Bill Posters & Daniel Howe, part of "Trust, but verify," now on view at Rochester Contemporary.
But watch for a shift to the virtual realm with the uncertainties of the pandemic and renewed restrictions that might emerge.
"It just seems like we're going to get the rug pulled out from under us this winter," Cease says.
RoCo still plans to issue an open call for artwork made in response to the pandemic and social justice issues of the past year, for a potential show in February and March. 461-2222; rochestercontemporary.org.
Following the shutdown and some impressive expansions at The Strong National Museum of Play (1 Manhattan Square), the museum reopened to the public in late June, dividing up its regular hours into reduced-capacity, timed-ticket sessions of three hours each. Families can enjoy the play and education areas in the museum's permanent exhibits, including the carnival-themed, interactive "Pop-up Midway" and the mainstay miniature Wegmans store, or visit on special occasions for one of the museum's temporary exhibitions. Additionally, kids can partake in story hours, crafts, and other programs held at specific times during their visit.
Through September 7, The Strong's showcase "Celebrate the Finger Lakes" spotlights the region's agricultural and cultural aspects, with a variety of activities, performances, and demos, including previous performers from the New York State Fair. Next up is "Big League Fun" (September 26 through January 21, 2021), a baseball-themed exploration of science and math concepts with hands-on activities for all ages. Museum representatives have not yet released plans for a spring exhibit. 263-2700; museumofplay.org.
The Rochester Museum & Science Center (657 East Avenue) has reopened, with precautionary measures in place, and is presenting a weekly schedule of events in addition to its permanent interactive exhibits. RMSC is also gearing up to present its major fall exhibit, "The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World" (opening November 20), an artifact-rich, immersive experience that spotlights more than 100 historical and contemporary organizers and activists, inventors and entrepreneurs whose work has had lasting impacts locally and around the world. 271-4320; rmsc.org.
Visual Studies Workshop's (31 Prince Street) spring exhibition, Joshua Rashaad McFadden's "Evidence," was only open for a couple of weeks before the March shutdown, so VSW is offering by-appointment viewings of the installation through November 21.
The 24 participants in VSW's 2020 artist residency program have had to forgo the exhibition aspects of their residencies, instead working remotely on book projects, which will be printed and published in the future. The workshop plans to present a series of to-be-announced online readings and talks in association with those publications. 442-8676; vsw.org.
In April, Main Street Arts (20 West Main Street, Clifton Springs) presented one of the region's earliest and most impressive pivots to a virtual, interactive exhibition with Chad Grohman's solo show, "Up to Now" and the "Field Trip Visions" group exhibition, which gave viewers the ability to "walk through" the gallery as well as zoom in on individual artworks and curatorial wall text.
After arts and cultural organizations got the reopening nod in late June, MSA added by-appointment opportunities to see its exhibitions, while hosting the openings exclusively online — a model it will continue into until further notice. Its current exhibition, "The Print Club of Rochester: 89th Annual Members Exhibition," featuring 21 printmakers working in a vast variety of techniques, remains on view through September 18. After that, MSA has shows booked out in pairs through the early winter.
The next pair-up features a to-be-named showcase of artwork by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists located in upstate New York and "A Few Thoughts, 2020," Pat Bacon's solo, multimedia meditation on the events of the past year (September 26 through October 30). That's followed by "The Cup, The Mug," MSA's annual juried exhibition of drinking vessels, and "Small Works 2020," the annual national juried exhibition of wee works (November 7 through December 4). 315-462-0210; mainstreetartscs.org.
The Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan(7000 Co Rd 41, Victor) will present a virtual version of its Juried Art Exhibit for Hodinohso:ni artists, opening November 6. More details will be shared soon at ganondagan.org.
The Yards (facebook.com/attheyards), The Rochester Public Market's resident art venue, has reopened its lounge for shopping by appointment , and some of its studio artists are holding pop-up events outside Java's Cafe during Saturday's Public Market hours. Two exhibits are planned for October. The first, "Combining Form" by DaShon Aubrey Hill, is open by appointment from October 2 through October 11. The second is the Teen Ambassadors' Showcase, with a virtual opening on October 16 from 6 to 9 p.m. The show is the culmination of the first trial run of The Yards' teen mentorship program and runs through October 25.
Another small but but mighty spot, The UUU Art Collective (uuuartcollective.com), hasn't yet solidified plans for hosting exhibitions and events, but have alluded to forthcoming shows.
With institutions of higher learning in dubious reopening territory, there hasn't been much news yet about exhibitions at college and university galleries like Mercer Gallery (Monroe Community College), University Gallery or Bevier Gallery (Rochester Institute of Technology), Hartnett Gallery (University of Rochester).
The only exception seems to be RIT's off-site City Art Space (280 East Main Street), which through the summer has posted RIT students' messages in support of equality, Black Lives Matter, inclusivity, and justice in its Sibley Building storefront windows, and will expand the project, "Visible Voices," onto the gallery's walls with more messages by students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The space was scheduled to reopen to the public on September 10 with reduced capacity and face mask requirements. 475-4977; cityartspace.rit.edu.
Not all arts programming is attached to a specific set of white walls. Going strong since the fall of 2017, Rachel DeGuzman's powerful, nomadic art and discussion series, "At the Crossroads: Activating the Intersection of Art and Justice," continues to spotlight important social and political issues through collaborative art performances and installations, as well as its community-based Long Table Conversations. The next scheduled event in the At the Crossroads series is "The Audacity of Caucasity: A Virtual Long Table" on October 9, exploring how ideas of white supremacy have resulted in the humiliation, terror, assault, imprisonment, and death of Black people. More details to come at facebook.com/artandjusticeROC.Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's arts & entertainment editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.