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The Visual Studies Workshop gallery, one of the First Friday venues (Photo courtesy of Visual Studies Workshop)

Art Night


To understand the impact of First Friday on Rochester's art scene, imagine a flower unfurling.

The visibility of regional artists and galleries has blossomed since 2007, when the monthly gallery open-house circuit began.

"The thing that everybody says when they first engage with it, they always say, 'Wow, I'm amazed at how many venues there are,' even people who've been in and around the art community around Rochester for a long time," says Bleu Cease, executive director and curator of Rochester Contemporary Art Center, who launched the open house idea five years ago.

Some 30 galleries and shops take part, with a core group of 15 that stay open late on the same Friday evening each month. Bernunzio's Uptown Music, across East Avenue from RoCo, stages live music. Crocus Clay Works and other studios in the Hungerford Building, as well as Anderson Alley Artists, throw open their doors. There are scavenger hunts at Writers & Books literary center and exhibits at Genesee Center for the Arts. 

Photography is a major medium, a no-brainer given Rochester's roots in imaging and film. Image City Photography Gallery, a First Friday stalwart, exhibits artwork by high schoolers, college students and seasoned veterans. 

"The city, which is really where First Friday is focused, is surrounded by colleges and universities where there are strong art programs of all different kinds. The whole area is full of art students," Cease says.

"You can go around on First Friday and see hobbyists, grad and undergrad students, and regional artists, but certainly you can also see artists who are exhibiting in Rochester and they are based in Texas or down south or California."

Many First Friday venues are traditional galleries and studios, but not all: a frame shop and a church are in the mix, and shows pop up in warehouses and storefronts. 

"I love that diversity," Cease says.   A growing number of First Friday studios reveal experimental work such as video and computer art and performance pieces. A show by local graffiti artists was a hit at RoCo, whose walls became the canvas. 

"We have thematically or topically curated shows around ideas that are important for the city, and we bring artists in from around the country," Cease says. "That's an important bit of diversity as well."

The region's strengths in theater, music and dance lay the groundwork for collaboration and change, he adds. 

"Those other forms are really well supported in this community, and I think that's a strength for the visual arts. (Visual art) has to be nudged, it has to be challenged, it has to be responsive, either to other forms or outside influences or sometimes to itself."

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