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Rochester Art Collectors grows support for makers 

There's no safety net for artists. Makers are gonna keep making, but there's no guarantee they'll sell their work, there are too few gallerists and dealers helping them out, and funding for individual artists is scant. An often overlooked part of the capital conversation is how much support on local levels comes from individual patrons of the arts.

But collecting art is for the rich, right? A new grassroots collective, the Rochester Art Collectors, aims to grow the local base of art buyers and create a stronger, more efficiently networked art scene.

Rochester Art Collectors is an independent, non-commercial group organized to promote collecting art, but they also hope, in the long term, to help increase opportunities for curators and grow the number of commercial galleries in Rochester. A small number of the group gathered last Thursday at Richard Margolis's Anderson Alley studio for one of its informal introductory meetings. Founding member and co-organizer Sarah Webb led a short conversation about the group's aims and goals, and I left the discussion feeling like this effort has a real chance at sustained success and growth.

"You don't have to be afraid of the word 'collector,'" Webb says. "You might begin by purchasing work by your friends, and then it begins to expand into something thematic. A collector is not necessarily someone who is on the board of trustees at the Museum of Modern Art. A collector is simply someone who chooses to live with art."

Founding member, realtor, and art collector Rome Celli began meeting with various players in the local art scene last fall, putting out feelers for interest and putting heads together to pool collective knowledge of resources. After about eight weeks of meeting at different galleries and studios, the group's membership is currently at more than 160 people; their new goal is to have 200 people by June 30. Right now, Webb says, the breakdown in membership is a cross between artists, collectors, and gallerists, with some individuals fitting into multiple categories.

Membership is free and gives you access to the resources the group has gathered, which includes a comprehensive list of commercial and non-commercial galleries, artist spaces, collectives, and co-ops in the region, art organizations, and information about different media outlets that cover the arts.

The group also wants to provide education and support for collectors, and promote best practices in art collecting. Part of their definition of best practices is developing a personal relationship with artists -- visiting makers' studios or workspaces and getting to know them personally can foster the desire to support them and their work -- and resisting the urge to ask artists to lower the prices they've set for their art. If you can't afford a certain piece, perhaps the artist would work out a consignment or payment plan with you, Webb says.

The group's leadership also discourages collecting art purely as an investment -- buying in hopes that it'll appreciate in value and you can flip it for a profit. It's truly more about finding what is unique and interesting in this scene and helping artists thrive. "We're not interested in having our name affiliated with anything that's about the financial reward of investing in art," Webb says. "This is really about buying work because you love it."

Rochester Art Collectors is planning a series of talks, tours, and social mixers, which will be promoted through its Facebook page. The group will host an informal talk, "Living With Art," at the Rochester Brainery on Friday, May 4, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ($5 suggested donation).

The following event is "Think globally. Create, experience & collect locally," a conversation with gallerists Louis Perticone (Artisan Works), Nan Miller (Nan Miller Gallery), and Bradley Butler (Main Street Arts) on Friday, May 11, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Rochester Contemporary (free, registration required).

Group members are currently engaged in a social media campaign to gain visibility and promote local art. They've been posting images on Instagram of work they've collected with the artist's name, sometimes with descriptions of why they love the work, and include the hashtag #ROCTHEART and the handle @rochesterartcollectors. More information can be found at rochesterartcollectors.org.

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