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Amid tensions with art community, city looks to spend $200K on public art 

click to enlarge Rochester native Ephraim Gebre, along with fellow artists Darius Dennis, Dan Harrington, and Jared Diaz, bring John Lewis to life in a mural inspired by an image taken by civil rights-era photographer Danny Lyon. The mural, titled "I am Speaking," went up on State Street in downtown Rochester in 2020.

PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE

Rochester native Ephraim Gebre, along with fellow artists Darius Dennis, Dan Harrington, and Jared Diaz, bring John Lewis to life in a mural inspired by an image taken by civil rights-era photographer Danny Lyon. The mural, titled "I am Speaking," went up on State Street in downtown Rochester in 2020.

The administration of Mayor Malik Evans is looking to invest $200,000 in a pair of public art initiatives, and is calling for artists to manage them.

The initiatives include the creation of a series of public artwork and a series of murals on or in city-owned properties — from parks and playgrounds to schools and libraries.

The city recently issued a call for bids on each of the projects for “qualified consultants,” which the documents suggest should be an individual or group with experience coordinating the production of high-profile works of art.

Consultants would be awarded $100,000 apiece, but would be permitted to take no more than $20,000 in fees, according to the bid documents. They must use the remainder for commissioning the art and paying for the selected artist’s materials and whatever else is needed to execute the artist’s vision.


Bid documents note that the goal is to create at least two murals and two other pieces of public art that will last at least five years.

The investment comes at a delicate time in the city’s relationship with the artist community.

Artists have been at the forefront of a movement to derail the city’s push for a business improvement district downtown. They argue the district would gentrify the city’s core and make it unaffordable to most people.

Business improvement districts are public-private partnerships in which property owners in a defined area agree to pay additional taxes for quality-of-life improvements that the local government does not provide.

RELATED: If Rochester is a 'City of the Arts,' why don't we fund the arts?

RELATED: Showdown over a downtown business improvement district

Opponents, led by artists, were so vocal that they managed in July to force the Evans administration to postpone a vote that would have formally begun the planning process to get the district up and running.

What initially sparked the artists' opposition was a call from the city’s nonprofit economic development arm for artists to paint windows downtown in an effort to “enhance the vibrancy” of the neighborhood.

Artists, who have been urging more equitable distribution of public art funding, took offense at the pay scale for the project and proposed that the financing for the effort be split among several arts organizations for art programming. That proposal was rejected.

The language in the bid documents for the dual initiatives appears to take pains to mend fences.

“Rochester is home to a robust arts and culture community and a blossoming network of creative professionals in the local economy,” the documents read. “With this strong framework, Rochester has an opportunity to further grow and strengthen the arts. . . . (T)he city is committed to equitably distributing public art funding, including for often underrepresented artists and arts organizations in Rochester.”

Proposals are due Sept. 12.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@wxxi.org.
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