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Is it art or is it anarchy? 

Matthew Friday, local artist and member of the national antagonistic group the Society for the Representation of Society, has for a long time feared the marginalization of art. So eight years ago Friday, then a student and now an art professor at SUNY Oswego, and various other art, theater, and music students thought they'd cause trouble --- for art's sake. Their subculture backgrounds gave them the ammo, but also the stigma.

          "The problem is, the type of culture these subcultures produce isn't always recognized in the way that, say, fine art is recognized," he says. "It's invisible, and it's not seen as having the same value."

          So SRS set out to agitate and educate.

          "The first thing we wanted to do was stage most of our events in public as much as possible," he says, "and do so in a way that it wouldn't look like something that was immediately identifiable as, 'That's artwork you hang on the wall; this is music that you'd listen to.' We think we have public space in today's society. But public space is so tightly controlled; it's very limited."

          At first, SRS threw parties, invited random graffiti artists, bands, and DJs, and had them collaborate, working off the inspiration of one another's art.

          But then things got weird and increasingly subversive. SRS, reacting to local xenophobia, posted 2000 flyers around San Antonio, Texas, warning residents of giant border-crossing cockroaches. Then there was the sticker campaign where various official-looking decals were stuck all over cities across America, warning of surveillance cameras in bathrooms and electrical shock from payphones and announcing various businesses as a future site of Starbucks.

          "A common strategy of ours," says Friday, "is to try to make something that looks just convincing enough." The art is in the reaction and chaos the projects create, though the definition is still somewhat subjective.

          "It's always a struggle for us to find a venue that's willing to show what we do as art," he says. "The other problem we run into is a lot of the shit we do is illegal."

          For more info, to join, or suggest a project, log onto www.socrepsoc.com.

--- Frank De Blase


Schoolhouse rocked

February break is no vacation for the city school district's board members.

            They're spending this week reviewing the recommendations announced last week by Superintendent Manny Rivera for closing or moving elementary schools.

            Despite the media frenzy surrounding the closings --- at one point as many as five (or even 10) schools were said to be on the chopping block --- Rivera called for shutting down just a single school, School 37. He recommended that two more (Schools 22 and 25) be relocated this year, and one more (School 54) next year. He also recommended that specialty programs housed in a leased building on Hart Street, including the Young Mothers Program, be relocated.

            One thing the board won't be considering is input from yet another public hearing. There's none scheduled, says Board President Darryl Porter.

            "We had the public hearings," he says. "Now it's time for us to review the superintendent's report."

            That the report contains only one closure has raised some eyebrows, since staff and programs, not building maintenance, represent the lion's share of the cost of operating a school. But Porter contends that the savings from Rivera's recommendations total about a million dollars.

            "That makes a big difference," he says.

            One reason only a single school is listed for closure is uncertainty about charter and parochial schools, says Porter. Two charter schools up for recertification soon have not been doing well; in addition, officials of the Catholic Diocese have talked about closing some of their elementary schools. If those schools stay open and public-school enrollment keeps, will the district close more schools?

            "That's something that we're gonna always have to keep our eye on," he says, but he adds that he doesn't expect any more closures in the next four or five years.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


The bus rolls on

Violence was the least of Poor People United member Charles Kellum's worries while operating their emergency shelter bus. His concerns were more practical.

          "The type of incident we foresaw happening was concerning the propane," he says. (PPU uses propane to heat its bus.) And yet Tuesday night, February 15, J.J. O' Connell, homeless and a guest, was fatally stabbed on the bus by another homeless man. As if the cold and the lack of volunteer help and funds weren't enough, now PPU has to take further steps.

          "What we had to do is go back and look at what we could do to increase safety so our guests feel safe, our volunteers feel safe," Kellum says. They'll do so by installing a metal detector. In addition, guests will no longer be allowed to bring their bags on board. More space has been created to ease crowding, and Kellum hopes to soon have councilors and medical professionals available.

          "There's a real strong commitment from everyone," he says. "The homeless have expressed that they would like us to continue. The need is still there."

          Kellum says O' Connell's family plans on setting up a memorial fund, with the proceeds going to PPU's bus project.

--- Frank De Blase


Leading the Dems

When Monroe County Democrats chose their new chairperson last week, they picked an experienced politician with deep liberal roots. Attorney Richard Dollinger succeeds Molly Clifford, whose resignation January 31 took many party leaders by surprise.

            Dollinger was a Monroe County Legislator from 1987 to 1992 and served in the State Senate for the next 10 years. In both seats, he was an outspoken legislator, and he took solidly liberal positions. He has been a strong advocate for state government reform.

            He says he sought the chairmanship reluctantly, but he talks about it with obvious enthusiasm. Leading his party locally, however, may prove to be a bigger challenge than it was to make his voice heard as a minority state senator. Local Democratic elected officials often seem to be fighting each other as forcefully as they are fighting their Republican opposition.

            As she announced she was giving up the position, Clifford blamed fractious elements within the party. Dollinger must overcome that divisiveness at a time when tensions are particularly high, with a Democratic primary assured in the race for Rochester mayor. He must also help raise enough money for the Dems to mount strong challenges in the CountyLegislature race, where all 29 seats are up for election this year.

--- Mary Anna Towler


Following your money

Eleven area businesses, a law firm, and a major arts institution are the latest to receive public subsidies in the form of tax breaks approved by the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency.

            COMIDA approved the breaks at its February 15 meeting. The recipients and the number of new fulltime jobs they expect to create:

            StrongMuseum, for its expansion; 15 new jobs.

            Gastroenterology Group of Rochester, 125 Lattimore Road, for a move and expansion; at least two new jobs.

            Elmwood Dental Group, 1950 South Clinton Avenue, for a renovation and expansion; three new jobs.

            Upstate Roofing Inc., 1300 Brighton Henrietta Townline Road; the company will buy four new vehicles; two new jobs.

            Ernest R. Kimball Inc. hauling company, 1807 Trebor Road, Webster, to buy a dump truck; one new job.

            Woods Oviatt Gilman law firm, 700 Crossroads Building, for computer upgrades and equipment; two new jobs.

            Dakksco Pipeline Corp., 999 Behan Road, for new equipment; one new job.

            Comfort Care Family Dental Group, 2024 West Henrietta Road, for renovation and expansion; two new jobs.

            Lone Star Recreation Inc., 557 East Ridge Road; to renovate a former tennis club and skate park; six new jobs.

            Harding's Towing II Inc., 90 Centre Drive, to buy four trucks; one new job.

            Green Meadows-Rochester LLC, D&W Diesel Inc., 20 Saginaw Drive, for an expansion; four new jobs.

            Ontario Exteriors, 388 Mason Road, Fairport, to move into a new facility; two new jobs.

            85 Allen LLC, 1 South Washington Street, to develop the vacant ArtcraftBuilding in downtown Rochester for mixed residential and commercial use; 15 new jobs.

            COMIDA has been under scrutiny by the activist group Metro Justice for its liberal approval of tax breaks --- even for companies planning to create only one new job --- and for approving projects for businesses that promise to simply maintain their current level of jobs.

--- Mary Anna Towler

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