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Train your brain 

Rochester's grassroots communal education

It's unlikely that a single adult Rochesterian hasn't at least heard the phrase "brain drain," that bleak term we use to describe the phenomenon of our fresh college graduates fleeing the area in search of better prospects. The amount of educated, driven individuals in Rochester far exceeds the city's limited amount of ready-made opportunities. But one thing that we haven't fully taken advantage of yet is the wealth of our communal expertise, skill sets, and initiative.

Various groups and organizations are beginning to pool this communal knowledge and offer it to one another at little or no cost, and in turn, individuals and groups are beginning to shape the future of this city in a very do-it-yourself manner. We checked out some of the newest independent, collective, community-education offerings and learned where you can go to gain a skill, teach a skill, use the kinds of tools found in a professional workshop, or just to get inspired by local makers and thinkers.

Take a class on logo creation or fancy hula-hooping for $15, or get advice on a project you're working on for free. This is a mere sampling of local alternative learning spaces. Contribute your favorite organization at the online version of this article at

Rochester Brainery
click to enlarge Rochester Brainery founders Stephanie Rankin and Danielle Raymo. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Rochester Brainery founders Stephanie Rankin and Danielle Raymo.

Open for just a little more than two months, the grassroots Rochester Brainery hit the ground sprinting, now holding classes and events just about every night of the week. Offerings include everything from themed dinner workshops with Lento owner/chef Art Rogers on third Wednesdays (a three-course meal including tip and wine for $50), film screenings, and monthly non-profit fundraisers (Girls Rock! Rochester will be featured on May 25; Habitat for Humanity is next up), plus a monthly day-long Brainery Bazaar that features 20 different local maker vendors each time.

Rochester Brainery founders Danielle Raymo and Stephanie Rankin, who both work in marketing, believe that learning should be fun, affordable, and accessible. "Stephanie and I don't have a lot of money to do extra things. We're still paying back our college loans," says Raymo. The duo were inspired by Brooklyn Brainery's model, which offers a variety of inexpensive classes and creates social and professional connections amid the community, and wanted to offer a similar organization in Rochester.

The local Brainery offers single-session, interactive classes that typically run two hours and cost between $15 and $30. Teachers are paid $25 per hour, or they may teach in exchange for two free class passes. Teachers are often local business owners who benefit from promoting their work while sharing skills with others.

click to enlarge The "Container and Urban Organic Gardening" class at Rochester Brainery. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • The "Container and Urban Organic Gardening" class at Rochester Brainery.
click to enlarge A student taking the "Container and Urban Organic Gardening" class at Rochester Brainery. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • A student taking the "Container and Urban Organic Gardening" class at Rochester Brainery.

Past offerings have included everything from DIY graphic design to the basics of swing dancing, "Understanding Your Teen" parenting courses, social-media skills, jug-band music classes, and "How to Save Money on Organic Foods." Anyone who wants to teach may propose a class, and even if you don't want to teach, you can propose a class and the organizers will pursue finding a teacher for that area of interest.

The organization is based in a chic little two-room unit in the Village Gate on North Goodman Street, has the capacity to host two classes at once (seating for up to 70 people), presentation amenities such as a projector and sound system, chalkboards and easels, and free sign-language interpretation services. The space is also rentable during the day (at $30 per hour, plus a $20 amenities fee) for business meetings, bridal showers, and other events.

Rochester Brainery is located at 274 N. Goodman, suite B134. Classes cost $15-$30; check the website for a calendar of classes and events. For more information call 730-7034 or visit

Rochester Makerspace

Located inside a sizable industrial building in the St. Paul district, Rochester Makerspace offers 4,000 square feet of raw but beautifully managed space that houses a large, open workshop, a slightly smaller wood shop, and a growing collection of hand-made work surfaces, plus saws, routers, electronics, 3D printers, welding apparatuses, sewing machines, and more.

The organization was co-founded by Rob Roll, who works in telecommunications but whose hobby is machining, and Wyatt McBain, an artist and third-year information-technology student at RIT. Though plans have been in the works for almost a year, the Makerspace has been operational for just over a month, and it offers membership and a sense of community, access to tools that would be too pricey for most individuals to have in a personal workshop collection, as well as classes that have so far included artistic cast concrete, woodblock printing, and stained glass.

Roll and McBain have been working on the space for more than a year. Their initial interest in creating a communal area for creators and builders stemmed from the practicality of such a collective endeavor, to which they know others will be able to relate.

"I'm a college student, I live in an apartment. I don't have space to build anything, nor do I have money for the tools," says McBain.

"The best part about the Makerspace is the sense of community," says Roll, who says he has repeatedly witnessed the "really smart, extremely experienced people here" lend a hand to one another when they are stuck on a particular issue.

Rochester Makerspace draws inspiration from a network of other makerspaces based around the country, such as Artisan's Asylum, located outside of Boston, which grew from 1,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet within three years, and offers private work areas and artist studios in addition to classes and access to tools. Since Rochester Makerspace's site went live, the organizers have received inquiries about renting studios and workspaces, and Roll and McBain plan to expand to include such rentable spaces as soon as it's feasible. The organizers wish to offer a full spectrum of introductory courses and invite proposals from potential instructors for any kind of classes, whether industrial, electronic, fine art, or even wine-making.

Introductory membership rates are $40 per month, whether individual or family, but rates will increase as the space becomes more settled and the founders have assessed the long-term needs of the space. Once members have taken the safety certification course to use the tools, they receive a key card and access to the building and use of those tools daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (eventually cardholders will have 24/7 access). Classes range from $10 to $20 per hour, and the space offers free open nights on Thursdays beginning at 6 p.m., which function as an introduction to the space's offerings, or as an opportunity to work on a project or help the organizers work on the space, and to connect with other creatives.

Rochester Makerspace is located at 850 St. Paul St. (park in rear lot). Open hours are Monday & Thursday, 6-10 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Membership $40, classes range $10-$20/hour. For more information call 210-0075 or visit

A 3D printer at Makerspace. VIDEO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN

The Icarus Sessions
click to enlarge (left) Aprille Roelle Byam moderates the Icarus Sessions. (right) Jason Wilder talks about his street photography at the May Icarus Sessions. - PHOTO COURTESY HANLON-FISKE STUDIOS
  • (left) Aprille Roelle Byam moderates the Icarus Sessions. (right) Jason Wilder talks about his street photography at the May Icarus Sessions.

If you're shy about getting your own creative endeavor started, want feedback from the community on something you're working on, or just want to hear about what other creative Rochesterians are up to, attend The Icarus Sessions, which are a series of super-lightning talks held each third Wednesday night of the month at Hanlon-Fiske Studios on Elton Street. The concept came from Seth Godin's book "The Icarus Deception," which posits that while our industrialized society avoids the danger of flying too close to the sun, it has been skimming the water, afraid of taking creative chances. That dooms us just as well, says writer and artist Aprille Roelle Byam, local organizer of the Icarus Sessions.

Anyone who is interested may attend one of the events, at which they may choose to speak for 140 seconds about a particular project they are working on, even if it is stuck in the conceptual stage, and receive feedback from the audience. Attendees are not obliged to speak, and Byam says that many returners simply want to listen and offer support and advice.

click to enlarge Erich Lehman, curator of 1975 Gallery, was the keynote speaker at the May Icarus Session. - PHOTO COURTESY HANLON-FISKE STUDIOS
  • Erich Lehman, curator of 1975 Gallery, was the keynote speaker at the May Icarus Session.

The first local iteration of the Icarus Sessions took place in January at a different venue before finding a permanent monthly meeting space at the Neighborhood of the Arts studio of photographers Michael Hanlon and Teri Fiske. Byam, Hanlon, and Fiske aim to provide a space where community creatives feel safe discussing their projects, and are enthusiastic about the resulting connections being made among individuals and groups who have shared. One of the most exciting aspects of the Sessions, says Hanlon, is putting like-minded people, who may not know each other, in a room together, and seeing what results.

So far, the Icarus Sessions have featured photographers, writers, visual artists, and social-media specialists. The organizers have also added a keynote speaker to each session; presenters have included artist John Magnus, balloon artist Larry Moss, and 1975 Gallery owner Erich Lehman.

The Icarus Sessions take place at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at Hanlon-Fiske Studios, 34 Elton St. Admission is free. For more information visit and search "Rochester Icarus Sessions."

Rochester Free School

A summer-session open house for the Rochester Free School was held earlier in May. Though just getting its start, the organization that will operate at the Flying Squirrel Community Space in Corn Hill is an alternative educational institution based on non-hierarchical and non-standardized learning. The Free School aims to offer a variety of classes and workshops for all interested by those who are willing to share knowledge and skills with their community on a volunteer basis. The summer session is projected to begin June 3 and conclude July 22. Visit to learn how to get involved to teach or to take a class. The Flying Squirrel Community Space is located at 285 Clarissa St. For more information call 340-7003.

Rochester Free School

These well-established institutions and organizations offer all manner of classes and educational events to adults and children this summer.

Allendale Columbia School 519 Allens Creek Road. 318-4560, Offers summer programs in academics, athletics, art, drama, more Geared toward children, ages 2+. Open to the public. June 10-August 9. Visit the site's "public programs" page for more information on sessions and pricing.

Arc and Flame Center Rochester 125 Fedex Way. 349-7110, Offers a variety of single- and multiple-session classes and workshops in welding, glass fusion, smithing, and team building for tykes, teens, and adults, in addition to studio rental. Visit the web for a complete calendar of course offerings and pricing.

Creative Workshop Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave. 276-8959, Catch one of the lectures held at MAG throughout the year, take a docent-led tour of the current exhibit, or join one of the art classes offered for all ages, in addition to camps for children. Visit the website or stop by the gallery for more information.

Genesee Center for the Arts and Education 713 Monroe Ave. 244-1730, Classes in pottery, book arts, and photography offered throughout the year, as well as a summer camp for kids. Visit the site for course descriptions, pricing, and registration.

George Eastman House 900 East Ave. 271-3361, In addition to various lectures by visiting photographers and pre-screening in-depth film introductions at the Dryden Theatre, Eastman House offers single- and multiple-session photography workshops with a focus on historic processes. Learn more by visiting the website, by calling 271-3361 x323, or by emailing

Interlock Rochester 1115 E. Main St., door 7, suite 200. This combination hackerspace/makerspace offers space for members and the community to share interests in science, technology, art, and culture through regular lightning talks, events, and meet-ups. Membership is $50 per month ($35 for full-time college students), which gets you 24/7 access to the space, discounts on classes, personal space to keep your projects and equipment, discounts to partner organizations, and voting rights regarding organization decisions. Learn more at an "open night," which take place Tuesdays 7-10 p.m., by emailing, or by visiting the website.

Nerd Nite Rochester Veritas Wine Bar, 217 Alexander St. 262-2336,, Described as the meeting of TED talks plus wine & cheese, these meetings feature academic lectures by two speakers on the second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. A $5 suggested donation benefits a different organization every month. Watch the Facebook page for upcoming events.

TEDx talks in Rochester TEDx Rochester ( features an inspiring day full of lightning talks by local thinkers and doers. The event is free to attend, but you have to fill out an application and be accepted into the audience. Watch the site for upcoming events. Another, separately organized TEDx event, TEDx Flour City (, also features a day of lightning talks, because there is just too much braininess in Rochester for one TEDx organization. The next event takes place June 8, and though speaker applications are closed for this round, you can still apply to be an audience member. Visit the site for more information and to fill out the application.

Visual Studies Workshop 31 Prince St. 442-8676, In addition to offering provocative exhibits, holding screenings, offering a rigorous MFA program in visual studies, and producing impressive publications, VSW offers courses in photography, design, book making, and more through its summer institute, which runs June 17-July 12. Courses vary in price from $150-$550. Download the catalog and register for classes through the website.

Writers & Books 740 University Ave. 473-2590, Writers & Books offers educational programs, community events, author visits, and adults and youths can take single- and multiple-session classes and workshops for writers and readers at this local literary center year round. Visit the website for full course descriptions, pricing, and to sign up.

Did we miss your organization? Drop us a line at themail@rochester-citynewspaper or leave a comment on the online version of this article and we'll add you to the list.

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