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Art Walk Extension opens 

It's been a long, arduous journey, but Art Walk Extension in Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts opened Friday. And if it's true that art is in the eye of the beholder, it's probably also true that the success of a major urban development project is equally subjective. The end result of Art Walk Extension frustrates some people and delights others.

Art Walk Extension, which city officials say has cost roughly $9 million, began with the redevelopment of University Avenue from North Goodman Street north to Union Street, and North Goodman from University Avenue east to College Avenue. Sidewalks have been remade to resemble metropolitan boulevards replete with outdoor sculptures, benches, and lighting.

Some of the highlights include artist Cliff Garten's "Needle and Spindle" illuminated sculpture on North Goodman, a reference to the manufacturing work once associated with the area.

A sculpture by Tom Otterness is planned for the Memorial Art Gallery's new outdoor Centennial Sculpture Park. Work by Deborah Butterfield, Wendell Castle, Albert Paley, George Rickey, and many other well-known artists will also be displayed.

And an interactive piece titled "Traveling Through Stillness" is slated for East Avenue in front of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. A changing, two-dimensional outdoor gallery is planned for the front of the Anderson Artist building on North Goodman Street.

Planning for Art Walk Extension began in 2008 with about $3.8 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and about $1.8 million secured by Representative Louise Slaughter in federal transportation funds.

The project also received some city funding, as well as grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and through State Senator Joe Robach's office.

Art Walk Extension grew out of the monumental success of ARTWalk. Often referred to as an outdoor museum trail, ARTWalk was a largely grassroots effort. It also involved major reconstruction of University Avenue from North Goodman Street eastward, as well as a mix of sculptures, bus shelters, and artistic enhancements to sidewalks and street lamps. Many residents and business owners credit ARTWalk for launching the revitalization of the city's NOTA area.

But what initially was supposed to be phase two of the original ARTWalk project imploded over serious differences in visions. While ARTWalk emphasized the talents of local artists, Art Walk Extension became a much larger project. And some of its organizers and participants wanted to open the call for artwork to artists from around the country.

The split between the organizers of ARTWalk and Art Walk Extension has never been amicably resolved. The city's senior engineer on Art Walk Extension, Paul Way, would not comment on the turmoil. He says the project is an overwhelming success.

"This really is a regional attraction," Way says. "It really will be a huge draw for people to come to the area."

But Doug Rice, one of ARTWalk's founders, is less supportive.

"The finished project has many good attributes," he said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, community engagement isn't one of them. This was a project that arose from the efforts of a large group of Rochesterians who created an open-air chartered public art museum called ARTWalk. Once the federal money for the project was allocated, the city did not recognize or respect our accomplishments and not only relegated us to the sidelines, but co-opted our name and 10 years' worth of tireless volunteer labor for the project."

Eric Kunsman, owner of Booksmart Studio on Anderson Street, participated in the planning meetings for Art Walk Extension. He says he wishes Rice and the other members of ARTWalk would consider rejoining the larger project.

He says he understands Rice's concerns, but that the project did have support from volunteers and the local arts community.

"I participated because I wanted to make sure that I did have a voice," Kunsman says. He says he can look out on the street and see the fruition of the ideas that he and others introduced in early planning meetings.

And the area as well as local artists will benefit from the work of nationally known artists, he says.

"People will come to see their work, as well as the work of local artists," Kunsman says. "What if we had put all of this effort into this and nobody came?"

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