Arts Ecosystem

Janet and I are lucky to be living in a town that not only has a vibrant arts culture, but has an arts culture that let’s us in! My limited experience with artistic communities in other cities gave me the impression that the community was hard to break into. Not in Rochester.

One of our good friends who quickly welcomed us in to the Rochester art community is Chad Allen, who is activities director at 125 Live in Rochester. Chad regularly speaks of building the “arts ecosystem” in Rochester. Here are some of my thoughts on that term, and why I think it is aptly applied to the arts activity in this town.


In the context of biology, an ecosystem describes not only the organisms that live in a specific environment, but the environment as well. Further, “ecosystem” describes the dynamics of the interactions between the organisms and environment, what some describe as the “flow of energy”.

In the Rochester arts ecosystem, we have abundant musicians, artists, writers, dancers, and actors, all of whom exist in the ecosystem. Each type may have its own specific habitat, so to speak, yet all are part of the ecosystem. We are adding to the abundance and diversity of arts habitat in Rochester, also.

Musically, we saw the addition of The Jive Mill as a small, intimate music listening venue, for example. On the larger end of the spectrum, you have the newly renovated Mayo Civic Center for a wide variety of acts. I am pleased to serve on the Rochester Civic Music Advisory Board, which brings music to outdoor venues like Mayo Park for the Riverside Concerts, as well as to smaller stages such as Thursdays on First and Third. The Rochester Symphony’s primary home is at one of our local high schools. Pure Rock Studios is not only a teaching venue for young rock musicians, but is a performance venue, also. I’m barely scratching the surface here, of course.

Pure Rock Studios
Pure Rock Studios

For the visual arts, you can go to the Rochester Art Center, or you can simply walk around many of the Mayo Clinic buildings to find a mix of modern and classical art. Long-time pillar of the regional arts scene, SEMVA, just settled into its new home in downtown Rochester. Also downtown is the artist’s collaborative of which I am a member, Gallery 24.

Gallery 24 Art Reception
Gallery 24 Art Reception

I am less familiar with “habitats” for dance, theater, writing or poetry, so my apologies to those members of the ecosystem for not saying more in this blog entry. I do invite those of you who live and perform to contact me and contribute a guest blog article featuring your art form and habitats.

The arts ecosystem is more than people and places, as I said earlier. It is also the dynamic interactions among them. I’m pleased to see collaboration among artists and venues of different types. For example, The Jive Mill began inviting visual artists to hang their works on the walls, so that listeners attending musical performances could also become familiar with local visual artists. Cafe Steam, a popular local coffee shop and hangout, also features visual artists on a rotating basis. The Rochester Art Center occasionally hosts musical events, as in the case of Run Boy Run, featured in an earlier blog article of mine.

Run Boy Run
Run Boy Run

Ecosystems find a natural balance between organisms and environment, and yet are subject to “disturbances”. In recent history, financial management issues and leadership conflicts have affected both the Rochester Civic Theater and Rochester Arts Center. Tragedy struck local art venue, 535 Gallery, in 2017 when a fire devastated their building. The future of the Chateau Theater in the heart of downtown is in limbo as external forces driving the fate of downtown development have its renovation plans on hold. On a broader scale, threats to cut federal and state funding of the arts may have a significant impact on the arts ecosystem.

Ecosystems are characterized by their “resistance” and their “resilience”. The first term, resistance, describes an ecosystem’s ability to resist being shoved out of balance by disturbances. Resilience describes the ecosystem’s ability to spring back return to balance after a disturbance. My initial impression of Rochester is that overall our arts ecosystem is more resistant than resilient. I’d like to open a discussion on this point, and hear from others.

My main point today is that we have an arts ecosystem in Rochester, it is growing and developing, and we have a chance to nurture it, protect it from disturbances, and carry it forward into the future. Let’s make the most of the opportunity.


  1. I’m not from Rochester originally.
    Visiting Rochester with family, prior to moving here, I was impressed with the vibrancy and vitality that the city carries. It’s a growing city. It feels healthy. However, I was actually a bit surprised that such a vibrant city would seem to have a relatively small ecosystem form the arts. I’m not trying to speak badly or point blame, I’m just surprised it isn’t bigger, stronger, in the forefront and all the edges.
    So, in speaking of resistance and resilience, I would say that the arts community in Rochester does have a foothold, but too small, and shaky at times. (We can agree, it’s been shaky)… It’s hard work to maintain that resistance to being pushed out, especially when your patch of ground is small and unstable. I do think that that resilience needs to be boosted. Step from that foothold. Keep one foot planted if you need to. Fill the edges, create new space. I like to hear that area businesses are growing and incorporating the arts on and within their walls. That’s good news. Keep up the good work. And keep calling for art.



    • Thanks, Eric, for your remarks. Yes, there have been shaky times for the visual arts and theater communities. Music seems more stable to me, but that’s one opinion. I, too, would like to see the resilience of the art scene increase.


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