It has been said many times, by many people: for a city its size, Rochester is packed with arts and cultural opportunities. On any given night literally dozens of events take place in the Greater Rochester area, from art exhibits to theater shows to dance recitals to music concerts.
With so much going on, sometimes the focus gets trained too closely on the major organizations that dominate the area's arts and culture scene. There's certainly nothing wrong with that -- there's a reason why these institutions have become cultural touchstones for our city. But there are a variety of alternative medium- and small-sized groups and venues that are also putting on quality work, and they're deserving of your attention.
Note that the information below is not even close to a comprehensive list of local arts and cultural venues. For more on the Rochester entertainment scene visit rochestercitynewspaper.com and visit the Events section, where you can find a complete calendar searchable by date, venue, and event type.
The Memorial Art Gallery (500 University Ave., 276-8900, mag.rochester.edu) and the George Eastman House (900 East Ave., 271-3361, eastmanhouse.org) are the area's two major museums. Both have great collections of their own, and bring in some fantastic national and international exhibits. You should absolutely visit both of them.
But don't stop there. Rochester has a wealth of other visual-art opportunities to explore. As the name suggests, Rochester Contemporary Art Center (137 East Ave., 461-2222, rochestercontemporary.org) focuses primarily on modern art with its exhibits, many of which have social or political connotations. The gallery is also one of the chief organizers of the First Friday citywide gallery night (firstfridayrochester.org), a fantastic way to learn about other local art spaces.
Other local galleries worth checking out include the photography-only Image City Photography Gallery (722 University Ave., 271-2540, imagecityphotographygallery.com); Oxford Gallery (257 Oxford St., 271-5885, oxfordgallery.com), which features works from the 18th through 21st centuries; and the High Falls Fine Art Gallery (60 Browns Race, 325-2030, centerathighfalls.org), which has featured work by more than 2000 local artists since opening in 1992.
If you want to interact with the artists more directly, consider stopping by one of Rochester's art communities. Anderson Alley Artists (250 N. Goodman St., andersonalleyartists.com) is home to nearly two dozen artists working in a variety of media, and the group holds open studio hours on the second Saturday of every month. The HungerfordBuilding(1115 E. Main St., thehungerford.com) is home to all manner of cool artists, galleries, creators, and performance spaces, many of which participate in First Friday as well as other public events. While Artisan Works (565 Blossom Road Suite L, 288-7170, artisanworks.net) is not strictly an artist collective, it does house some artists-in-residence who work amidst the venue's massive, eclectic collection.
It may be a nomadic endeavor at the moment, but 1975 Gallery (360-4446, 1975ish.com) holds its own against the bigger, established art houses in Rochester. 1975 regularly hosts shows of work by local, emerging, national, and established-in-their fields artists in lowbrow and overlapping niche scenes of street, skateboard, and tattoo cultures. Shows are held at Surface Salon (661 South Avenue, Suite B), Booksmart Studio (250 N. Goodman St.), and the newish collaborative art space, The Yards (50-52 Public Market, above Flour City Bread Co.).
Some of the most interesting exhibits in town can be found at nontraditional educational institutions. GeneseeCenter for the Arts for the Arts & Education (713 Monroe Ave., 244-1730, geneseearts.org) is home to several galleries, including the Firehouse Gallery, which showcases ceramics, and the Community Darkroom Galleries, dedicated to photographic works. Over the years Visual Studies Workshop (31 Prince St., 442-8676, vsw.org) has hosted some of the area's most interesting, challenging exhibits, and should not be overlooked.
Be sure to take advantage of the area's large number of colleges and universities, almost all of which have top-notch galleries. The University of Rochester's Hartnett Gallery, Monroe Community College's Mercer Gallery, Nazareth College Colacino Art Gallery and Arts Center Gallery, SUNY Brockport Tower Fine Arts Center, SUNY Geneseo Lederer, Lockhart, and Bridge galleries, and RIT's off-campus, student-run Gallery r are frequently home to some exceptional exhibits.
GevaTheatreCenter (75 Woodbury Blvd., 232-4382, gevatheatre.org) is the area's premier destination for live theater, with two stages featuring everything from blockbuster musicals to intimate dramas to comedy improv. The Rochester Broadway Theatre League routinely packs the house at the Auditorium Theatre (885 E. Main St., 222-5000, rbtl.org) with week-long (or more) stays by Broadway tours, plus assorted major-league concerts, kids shows, comedians, and other performers.
You can find even more quality theater at Blackfriars Theatre (795 E. Main St., 454-1260, bftix.com) and JCC CenterStage (1200 Edgewood Ave., 461-2000, jccrochester.org). Both routinely put on exciting, ambitious shows with excellent casts and superlative production values. Downstairs Cabaret Theatre (325-4370, downstairscabaret.org) has multiple locations featuring professional actors in cabaret-style shows ranging from original musical comedies to one-man (or -woman) tour de forces.
Community theater is plentiful in Rochester. Many of the surrounding communities have troupes that perform one or two shows per year, including Pittsford Musicals (pittsfordmusicals.org), Webster Theatre Guild (webstertheatreguild.org), Irondequoit Theatre Guild (irondequoittheatreguild.org), Penfield Players (penfieldplayers.org), and Rochester Community Players (rochestercommunityplayers.org), the latter of which specializes in Shakespeare and Irish plays. But that's only a fraction; for information on additional groups, from the Gilbert & Sullivan troupe Off-Monroe Players (off-monroeplayers.org) to movement-based companies like Geomantics Dance Theater (geomanticsdancetheater.org) and PUSH Physical Theatre (pushtheatre.org), check out umbrella organization TheatreROCs(theatrerocs.org). Another great source for local theater is MuCCC(142 Atlantic Ave., muccc.org), a community space that hosts many smaller, but bold companies.
The area is also home to several children's theaters, which provide a nice alternative to our great local family museums and attractions. Rochester Children's Theatre (rochesterchildrenstheatre.org) is based out of the NazarethCollegeArtsCenter and puts on a range of shows that appeal to the little-little kids up to more thoughtful works more appropriate to teens and older. TYKEs -- Theater Young Kids Enjoy -- is based out of the Jewish Community Center, and as the name implies, tends to focus more on shows for younger kids (tykestheatre.org). Rochester Association of Performing Arts, or RAPA, puts on traditional theater and family shows, as well as several all-kid performances per year (727 E. Main St., 325-3366, rapaonline.us), while A Magical Journey Thru Stages (885 E. Main St., 3rd Floor, 935-7173, mjtstages.com) presents several all-kid performances per year.
When it comes to popular music, Rochester's main venues include Water Street Music Hall (204 N. Water St., 325-5600, waterstreetmusic.com), which has two stages and is almost always booked with touring national acts; the Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave., 454-2966, bugjar.com), which hosts indie, alternative, and more out-there music almost daily; and increasingly Lovin' Cup (300 Park Point Drive, 292-9940, lovincup.com), which hosts everything from rock to jazz to folk to open mics and karaoke in its RIT-area space. Abilene (153 Liberty Pole Way, 232-3230, abilenebarandlounge.com) has also blossomed into a cool venue that frequently features local and national acts that tip toward the Americana, alt-rock, or blues end of the spectrum. Main Street Armory (900 E. Main St., 232-3221, rochestermainstreetarmory.com) has also grown to one of our major local venues, hosting big concerts for national rock and hip-hop acts.
Beyond that, California Brew Haus(402 Ridge Road, 621-1480) hosts primarily local and regional at least once per week. MontageMusic Hall(50 N. Chestnut St., themontagemusichall.com) has become a regular source for local and touring metal and heavy-rock bands. Boulder Coffee Co. (many area locations, bouldercoffee.com) hosts live bands and open mics several times a week at it South Wedge and Park Avenue locations. You can regularly find blues, rock, and more at both Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (99 Court St., dinosaurbarbque.com) and Sticky Lips BBQ Juke Joint (830 Jefferson Road, 292-5544, stickylipsbbq.com).
DubLand Underground (315 Alexander St., 232-7550, dublandunderground.wordpress.com) hosts an eclectic mix of music, including indie bands, rap/hip-hop, and DJ/electronic acts, while Monty's Krown (875 Monroe Ave., 271-7050) sporadically books cool local and touring acts. Folk can be found several times per month at the Harmony House (58 E. Main St., Webster, heartlandconcerts.org), while jazz is on the menu almost every night at the Horizon Lounge in the Woodcliff Hotel & Spa (199 Woodcliff Drive, Fairport, 381-4000, woodcliffhotelspa.com), with major national jazz artists coming town throughout the year as part of the Exodus to Jazz series (exodustojazz.com).
There are a half-dozen major multiplexes in the Greater Rochester area that show the latest mainstream releases. But Rochester is a film town and is home to several cool alternative movie houses.
The Little Theatre (240 East Ave., 258-0444, thelittle.org) is our major art-house cinema, with five screens devoted to independent and foreign-language films, plus an art gallery and a café featuring regular live music. Pittsford Cinema (3349 Monroe Ave., 383-1310, pittsford.zurichcinemas.com) finds a great balance between art-house flicks and big-screen blockbusters.
The Cinema Theater (957 S. Clinton Ave., 271-1785, cinemarochester.com) is a neighborhood theater in the South Wedge that unspools second-run flicks for very cheap prices. You can also catch classic, archival, and auteur-driven films at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre (900 East Ave., dryden.eastmanhouse.org), and the filmmakers themselves frequently stop by for chats and presentations.
Rochester is also awash with film festivals that bring in movies you would probably never see otherwise. Among the festivals are the Rochester International Film Festival (rochesterfilmfest.org), which focuses strictly on short films; ImageOut (imageout.org), Rochester's lesbian and gay film and video festival; the Deaf Rochester Film Festival (deafrochesterfilmfestival.org), a biennial event inspired by the area's large deaf community; and the Rochester Jewish Film Festival (rjff.org). Note that the area's other major film festival, 360 | 365 (formerly the High Falls Film Festival) is on hold this year, and is expected to return in 2013.