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Another arts group focuses on the future 

Rochester has yet another organization focused on supporting and promoting the arts.

Roc Arts United, a group of artists, arts administrators, and others involved in creative work, has been meeting for the past several months. Its goal, its leaders say, is to represent the diverse community of individual artists, organizations, institutions, and businesses in Rochester's arts sector.

The group grew out of a December meeting organized by City Councilmember Elaine Spaull, and hosted by the Arts and Cultural Council. One major focus then was the proposed theater for the Rochester Broadway Theatre League at Parcel 5. While that plan has been dropped, many in the arts community were concerned about other issues related to the arts in Rochester.

One issue was that meeting itself, which some felt had excluded people of color and smaller arts groups. Too often, those critics said, discussions about the arts in Rochester has lacked both inclusion and transparency.

During the meeting, participants raised a variety of other concerns, including how to create sustainable financial support for Rochester's extensive arts community.

Following the December meeting, some of the participants kept the discussion alive in online exchanges, additional meetings, and a Roc Arts United Facebook page. That led to the formation of committees to research the needs of the local arts community. And this month, the group formed a steering committee, many of whose members are familiar names in the arts community.

On the committee: Amanda Chestnut, an artist and communications coordinator for the Flower City Arts Center; Rochester Contemporary executive director Bleu Cease; artist and activist Ray Ray Mitrano, who has been active in discussions about the fate of Parcel 5; Don Bartalo, founder of hummingbird theatre co. and president of TheatreROCS; artist and community advocate Taurus Savant; Paley Studios archivist Elizabeth Cameron; Airigami artistic director Kelly Cheatle; 540WMain Communiversity founding director Calvin Eaton, attorney Douglas Fisher; and Mona Seghatoleslami, a host and producer on WXXI Classical 91.5 FM.

Based on findings of the research committees, the group has identified four main goals, its leaders say. The first is to fight for an official, paid arts commissioner position in city government. Second, they say, is to pursue sustainable funding for Rochester artists and arts organizations. Possible sources could include the county's hotel-motel tax and legislation requiring that a percentage of development costs be devoted to the arts, a practice adopted in some cities.

The group wants to create a comprehensive survey and map of Rochester's creative community. And its leaders want it to ensure that the group itself is diverse and inclusive, reflecting the Rochester area's arts community.

The meeting in December was a catalyst, says Roc Arts United steering committee member Amanda Chestnut. In its meetings since then, the group decided to advocate for the needs of individual artists and small groups and organizations, with an emphasis on inclusion and transparency, she says.

"I think we can all agree that we need a more transparent way and a stronger funding source for the artists in our area," Kelly Cheatle says. "We do so much with so little already. Imagine if we invested in our community's arts workers."

Its leaders also say they hope Roc Arts will serve as a unified voice for the arts community, helping local artists and organizations leverage their voices as city government moves forward with its 15-year comprehensive plan. "It's paramount," says Taurus Savant, "especially if Rochester is to be not just a city of the arts, but a city for the arts."

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