The arts community has been sounding the alarm since May of 2022 about The Rochester Downtown “Partnership” and their plans to create a BID to fund the RDDC with taxpayer money. Over 800 signatures and a petition letter that was cosigned by 50 artists from 3 generations were delivered to City Council on August 16, 2022 along with local survey data, research, requests for more information and time for consent.
Later that night Rochester City Council approved #255, the first step to create a BID in Downtown Rochester, without any clear plan for scope or need and against the interests of their constituents.
Rochester Downtown Development Corporation recently put out a call for artists to create window displays that must be “positive in nature.” These displays would “enhance vibrancy” and allow RDDC to demonstrate the potential improvements that a “Business Improvement District” could bring to downtown Rochester.
Roc Arts United City Committee and an extended coalition of working artists strongly opposes the RDDC’s attempt to co-opt the arts to push this anti-democratic power grab by downtown property owners.
Putting up positive window decorations to “show what the BID can do” is a cynical attempt to distract from what a Business Improvement District would actually do: Hand decision making powers for downtown Rochester to a secretive entity that does not have to obey the Freedom of Information Act or pay any attention to city residents who are not wealthy landowners.
This is profoundly undemocratic and the wrong way to go about developing downtown. A Business Improvement District (or “BID”) is a designated area of a municipality that is represented by a board. City Council would grant power to the BID Board that would allow it to levy fees, target tax dollars for private security, sanitation, infrastructure improvements, marketing, economic development and events, with NO PUBLIC INPUT.
BID Boards are not subject to open meetings law or freedom of information law. This means that a BID could work behind closed doors to make rules, control access to public spaces, and spend public money without transparency and the checks and balances of public scrutiny. The BID would overwhelmingly be made up of landowners, with one token seat for a residential renter.
Giving a secretive board control of downtown Rochester is anti-democratic and brings up a fundamental question: Who does the city belong to? The people who live, work and play there? Or only people rich enough to own downtown property?
Putting up “positive” window displays is emblematic of RDDC’s superficial approach to improving Rochester. Why should the art be positive?
One in ten students in Rochester experiences homelessness in a given school year. Rochester has the most economically segregating school district border in the country, walling off the high-poverty RCSD from low-poverty Penfield.
Sprucing up downtown with superficial investments to the liking of wealthy landowners is literal window dressing. Using artists to cover up bad policies and empty storefronts is a tactic called artwashing.
The arts community quietly objected when RDDC first came out with the window display artist call, suggesting instead that RDDC direct funding to arts groups that have expertise and experience in arts programming. RDDC leadership largely ignored and minimized the community’s pushback, went ahead with their plans, causing the art community to take their concerns public. The project has now been postponed twice, but RDDC still doesn’t seem to have gotten the full picture. Rather than respecting and supporting what is already happening in Rochester, they are now contorting themselves into a pseudo-arts council in order to justify the creation of a Business Improvement District. Based upon their willful ignorance of the wants and needs of the arts community, it is clear the RDDC should not be entrusted with arts funding or management.
Despite decades of disinvestment, Rochester is flush with artists and capable arts organizations. Their work is constantly highlighted in presentations and promotions by the City, area businesses and organizations. Imagine what our artists could create if we gave them the financial support and credit they deserve? Freedom of expression and creativity drive vitality. Directly funding our arts community will give a far greater return on our investment. The arts community must be represented by an accountable and transparent organization of their own creation.
And when considering the BID, city residents should ask the following questions.
Do we want to turn Downtown Rochester into a privatized oasis of phony vitality? Do we want to give wealthy developers the power to hire private security to secure their vision of a “vital” downtown? Do we want a secretive board to be able to levy taxes without public scrutiny? No.
The future of Rochester is everyone’s business.
Join the undersigned to support the Art Community and stand up against #Artwashing
Michelle Accorso, Drama & Video Art Educator, Rochester School of the Arts
Mara Ahmed, Artist and Filmmaker, Neelum Films
Gretchen Anthony, Fiber Artist
Rajesh Barnabas, RCSD Media Arts Teacher, and Artist
Annalisa Barron, Artist, Educator and founder of Annalisa Barron Studio
Ted Baumhauer, Ed.D.
Athesia Benjamin, Artist
Nicole Bruno, Artist
Erica Bryant, Artist & Writer
Bleu Cease, Executive Director Rochester Contemporary Art Center & Roc Arts United
Kelly Cheatle, Artistic Director, Airigami & Co-founder of Roc Arts United
Amanda Chestnut, Independent Curator & Co-founder of Roc Arts United
Sally Cohen, Sally Cohen PR (PR4Arts)
Cordell Cordaro, Artist & founder of Art House Press
Quajay Donnell, Artist & Public Art Advocate & Roc Arts United
Luticha Andre Doucette owner and CEO of Catalyst Consulting Associates
Calvin Eaton, Founder/CEO 540WMain, Inc.
Carvin Eison, General Manager Rochester Community Television
Unique Fair, Artist
Mia Ferraro- SUNY Geneseo Student, and Artist
Theodore D. Forsyth, Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice
Jonathan Gary, musician, artist., and resident of the proposed district
Reenah Golden Founder, Executive Artistic Director of The Avenue Blackbox Theatre
Martin Hawk, Filmmaker, Cinematographer at 7th Films
Jessica Johnston, Assistant Director Visual Studies Workshop
Rosalie M Jones, Founder & Artistic Director: Daystar – Contemporary Dance Drama of Indian America
Kristina Kaiser, Artist, Owner & Director of the Yards Collective
Elora Kang, Artist, Photographer, Creative Director; Elora Kang Studios
Darien Lamen, Community Activist and Musician
Erich S. Lehman, Curator, 1975 Gallery & Co-curator, WALL\THERAPY
Magnus, Artist & Community Activist
Heidi Nickisher, Art Historian
Niema Neteri Educator/Dancer/Founder of AfreeSōlutions
Larry Moss, Executive Director, Teaching Artists ROC and Creative Director, Airigami
George Muiruri, Teaching Artist
Henry I Padrón – Morales, Salmorejo & Hippocampo Books
Rashaad Parker, Artist
Sarah Peters, Teaching Artist
Najay Quick, Artist and Designer
Molly Rivera, Artist
Aprille Roelle, Literary Artist
Robert Rogalski, Illustrator, Designer, Sculptor
Ya’qub Shabazz, artist & Co-founder of 9th floor artists collective
Jon Schull Co-Founder, e-NABLE
Luvon Sheppard, Professor, College of Art and Design, School of Art, RIT & Director of Joy Gallery/Luvon Sheppard Art Studio
Justin Suarez, Muralist, Public Art Coordinator, Co-Founder of Roc Paint Division
Nicholas Valdez, Artist
Almeta Whitis, Teaching Artist
M Winegarner, Fiber Artist
Tyler Winegarner, Director, Tyler Winegarner Filmworks
Jonathan Wolfson, Performing Artist