Review of the February 24, 2020 Public Art Spaces Discussion:

While I convened the gathering, I spent most of the time listening to other individuals & organizations speak. My participation was largely limited to setting some ground rules and asking questions of speakers. The tone was respectful, conciliatory, and mutually supportive. I gathered 8 pages of notes that I hope to summarize here. If my summary is incomplete leave suggestions in the comments below.

My comments:

  • I am looking to create opportunities from this latest crisis.
  • I want to maximize public benefit and access from publically owned assets.
  • The City of Rochester has made large investments in art spaces including Mayo Civic Center, Experience Rochester, Rochester Art Center, Rochester Civic Theatre, 125 Live, City Parks, and Rochester Civic Music.
  • I am interested in a model that can make underutilized spaces available for more organizations and maximize performance opportunities in performance areas.
  • This meeting was not about Rochester Civic Theatre, but I did provide an overview that the organization has suffered from organizational and board mismanagement, is currently in violation of their lease, made false statements to the City and is unable to provide accurate financial records. Changes are being made, but I am personally skeptical that they will be able to pay their bills. 
  • I am incredibly disappointed that the RCT board chose to personally attack me with a petition containing a number of false statements. A theme was presented that the recommendations of City Administration and the Oversight Committee actually came from me personally, this is not the case.
  • I discussed the history of the Public Arts Master Plan which was spearheaded by a private organization who misused public funds, excluded promised partners and attempted to secretly change the recommendation that public dollars be overseen by a public body to a private body.
  • Discussed using public resources to address facility needs and some other non-arts related overhead allowing organizations to focus more on arts.
  • Mayo Civic Center has a tremendous amount of space that sits empty most of the time.
  • As is often the case in Rochester the lack of diversity in the room was noticeable and needs to be addressed in a collaborative model.

I asked speakers to focus on answering 3 questions:

  1. Tell me about your organization.
  2. How could a collaborative arts model help your organization?
  3. What pitfalls or concerns would you have about a collaborative arts organization?

Question 1: Organizations

  • I am not going to go into detail; but will say that I learned some details from many of the organizations. Two themes that came out is that organizations struggle to find affordable space for both rehearsal and performances, and many organizations struggle to reach people and arts funders as a result.
  • Here are organizations represented:
    • City of Rochester
    • Mayo Civic Center
    • Experience Rochester
    • Rochester Civic Theatre
    • Rochester Art Center
    • 125 Live
    • Gray Duck Theater
    • Immersion Youth Theatre
    • Calliope Theater
    • Absolute Theater
    • Rochester Repertory Theater
    • Gallery 24
    • Art 4 Trails
    • Threshold Arts
    • SEMVA
    • Rochester Arts Festival
    • ROCKchester
    • Rick Swanson Photography

Question 2: Benefits

  • There are a number of organizations that would benefit from access to rehearsal and performance spaces.
  • Access to ticketing, marketing, and business resources.
  • Reduced overhead expenses.
  • Cross promotion and mutual support between organizations.
  • Exposure for smaller organizations.
  • Finding the correct sized venues for particular events.
  • Consistently activate public spaces.
  • Universal prop library, shop space.
  • Public meetings / decision making.
  • Ability to have microgrants for small organizations.
  • Better address permitting / fees.
  • Address lack of affordable downtown arts spaces.
  • Professional networking for artists.

Question 3: Potential Pitfalls

  • A public body could lead to censorship of content either overtly or more subtly
  • A failure to equitably allocate space
  • A lack of institutional expertise pertaining to the needs of specific arts programming particularly as it relates to Theater.
  • Loss of RCT subscription model.
  • Concern over loss of existing staff & expertise.
  • Uncertain costs / availability.
  • High labor costs / ticket costs for small organizations.
  • In ability to rehearse in performance space.
  • Concern that 1 partner becomes an anchor organization.

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