Some people might think that Rochester's public art begins and ends with ARTWalk in the Neighborhood of the Arts, the horses on parade (remember those?), and those polarizing benches. But there have also been many different neighborhood art projects, as well as public and private commissions of local artists, plus works of art created randomly here and there. When I began research for this piece, I thought I would cover the notables and uncover a few gems, but I honestly had no idea of the extent of Rochester's outdoor art.
Public art installation in this city has gone hand-in-hand with efforts to improve neighborhoods and add a visual representation of the community's identity, whether funded or done independently. The following are highlights, but for a more comprehensive list, visit photographer Richard Margolis' rochesterpublicart.com.
Art Walk (University Avenue, from School of the Arts to Culver Road) This collection of sculptures, including a whimsical cat by Vincent Massaro at Merriman Street, mosaic-covered light poles, sculptural benches, and artistic bus-stop shelters (like Nancy Gong's "Engineers Have Fun Too" work of etched glass in front of Gleason Works), is a multi-artist collaboration that got its origin when former Mayor Bill Johnson challenged city neighborhoods to come up with 10-year plans for themselves. The Atlantic-University Neighborhood renamed itself Neighborhood of the Arts, and there are plans to expand Art Walk in the future. For updates check rochesterartwalk.org.
Parking Meter Totems/Traffic Control Box Paintings (South Avenue from Mount Hope to Highland Avenues) A host of artists have created sculptures to top former parking-meter poles in the South Wedge neighborhood, and many others were commissioned to create paintings on drab utility boxes. Scattered in South Wedge neighborhood, the painted boxes vary from colorful and abstract, to homages to important figures from Rochester's history, most notably Kevin Fitch's Frederick Douglass at the intersection of Main, West and Chili avenues, and Stephen Dorobiala's Son House painting at the corner of South Avenue and Gregory Street. For more information visit baswa.org.
The Liberty Pole (Intersection of East Avenue, East Main and Franklin streets) The current steel sculpture is actually the third liberty pole to have graced our city; it was designed by local architect James H. Johnson, and erected in 1965. The original wooden pole was built in 1846 but eventually toppled, and the second was destroyed in a storm December 26, 1889. The current one seems to be having better luck, although it catches a bunch of criticism as nothing more than an eyesore, except when it's strung with cascading lines of pretty white lights each holiday season. The site is also used as a meeting ground and space for protests and rallies. Visit thelibertypole.org for fascinating history on liberty poles as well as photos.
Horses/Benches on Parade (Various locations around the city and county) The imaginative alterations made by artists to these fiberglass fillies, fauna, and seats range as widely as their locations around town. The High Falls Brewery Company sponsored the original charitable community-arts project, for which more than 150 horses were created and sold to business and private residences in 2001. The artsy equines are currently displayed on front lawns, and at local businesses and organizations. My favorite horse home is the balcony of MonroeHigh School at 162 Alexander St. The 2009 benches project was presented by NazarethCollege and produced by Dixon Schwabl. in which 200 benches were decorated by area artists, and auctioned off to raise funds for local non-profits. For a complete list of locations and photos of the horses and benches, visit lowerfalls.org/horses (some links don't work, so click on the list by artist, horse name, or site) and benchesonparade.com
Seat of Forgetting and Remembering (Near the bluff of the LowerFalls) Four monoliths ring a central seat, covered in sculptured hands and faces. The piece was created in 2001 by Adriana IppelSlutzky, a sculptor and art educator who taught at the RochesterSchool for the Deaf.
Port of Rochester (4791 Lake Avenue) Includes "Another Little Adventure," leaded glass panel work by Nancy Gong, and metal fish sculptures by Paul Knobloch More artworks can be found on site indoors.
Frederick Douglass (Highland Park Bowl, South Avenue between Reservoir Avenue and Robinson Drive) Sidney Wells Edwards' 1899 17-foot-tall bronze sculpture of the noted abolitionist who lived in Rochester for much of the mid-1800's.
Goethe (Highland Park Reservoir at South Avenue) Bronze bust by William Ehrich, who also created the George Eastman statue in the quad on the University of Rochester River Campus.
PepsyKettavong: Works include "Let's Have Tea," a sculpture of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass in Susan B. Anthony Square between Madison and King Streets, "Nathaniel Rochester," in the South Wedge at the corner of Alexander and South Avenues, and a bronze voting box on West Main Street, in tribute to Susan B. Anthony's act of voting illegally.
Albert Paley's work: His monolithic work in Rochester includes the Main Street Bridge railings, the Millenium Bench on the Memorial Art Gallery's front lawn, "Sentinel" at Rochester Institute of Technology, "Threshold" at Klein Steel Corporation, 105 Vangaurd Way, an untitled steel wheel at The Strong National Museum of Play, "Genesee Passage" at One Bausch & Lomb Place, and of course, the gorgeous gates at Village Gate.
Murals are a trickier subject to pin down in this town -- they are numerous, and they pop up and get painted over regularly. Some are commissioned by arts organizations and neighborhoods, others are commissioned by smaller businesses, and still others are created independently (and sometimes illegally).
The "Legal Wall" (Behind the Village Gate, along the train tracks) This one-time free-for-all spot for area spray-painters to express themselves is now off-limits, but the work remains (and still changes, despite the legality being revoked).
Water Towers (Near Cobb's HillPark, 475 Norris Drive) More graffiti work; look for the Mario Bros. scene.
Black Vampire Bart Simpson (Genesee Street and Columbia Avenue) It's worth checking out.
Merchants Road Mural (At Merchants and Culver Road) Rick Muto's creation celebrates the neighborhood with a cheerful scene; also see his Rose Garden and Rochester history mural at the post office at Lexington and Dewey Avenue.
Romaire Bearden-esque found-material mural (WilsonCommencementPark on Joseph Avenue) Local artists and arts-facilitator Shawn Dunwoody completed this piece with local youths.
B-boy BBQ site (914 N. Clinton, and a few surrounding buildings) Annually updated graffiti imagery by some of the most talented and well-known graffiti artists in town, FUA Krew, and their contemporaries. The graffiti jam takes place on a different day each summer, and remains up until the Krew replaces it the following year. Watch for updates on the 2011 paint date at fua-krew.org.