In a historic former firehouse on Monroe Avenue, artisans and amateurs alike learn how to make art, side-by-side, in classes and workshops. It’s the community and vast array of resources that make the Genesee Center for the Arts and Education different from other arts and crafts workshops. Every nook and cranny of the 14,000-square-foot building is devoted to learning about and making art, fostering creativity for everyone who walks through the door.
Founded in 1970, the center houses three different art programs. Community Darkroom is dedicated to teaching digital, vintage and traditional photography. Photographers of all ages and skill levels are able to use classroom-style darkrooms, a lighting studio and an impressive library of books on everything you’d ever need to know about photography. Galleries displaying photographic art are used as workspaces and classrooms, offering the chance to learn, observe and find inspiration. Community Darkroom also offers digital classes on using Adobe Creative Suite to make and enhance images, create layouts for printing and introductory web design.
Having all of these resources housed under one roof is one of the reasons that the center is so special, executive director Janice Gouldthorpe says.
“People need places to go after college. Much of this equipment isn’t accessible outside of a college class. You come here and get access to it all,” she says, adding that it’s at a fraction of the cost of an actual college class.
The Printing and Book Arts Center is steeped in both creativity and history. Students learn letterpress printing, book binding, engraving, papermaking and book arts. Much of the equipment is vintage, including an 1844 printing press and an original Heidelberg press from the 1920s. Over 600 type drawers hold different fonts and engravings, including antique wood type and fonts.
Here, visitors can take a class or come in for a free lab on something as simple as making a greeting card. Members can rent the space and equipment for their own personal projects.
The oldest program in the center is Genesee Pottery. Nearly 4,000 square feet holds three classrooms, a kiln room, glaze room, clay room, a gift shop and a gallery. The gallery holds shows such as the College Collective, which showcases the work of art students from all around the country. Gallery access is free and open to the public.
Genesee Pottery offers individuals the chance to rent space to work, houses three artists in residence and welcomes anyone just looking to give the pottery wheel a spin. It’s well-loved and lived-in, spattered with clay and pottery dust, with ceramics of all sizes and shapes sitting on shelves lining the walls of each room.
It’s a perfect place to come and learn a craft, says Katie Carey, an artist in residency.
“There’s a great community here, great staff and great people. You get to work with others in this exciting period of time in their art,” she says.
Although Carey had an academic background in art before coming to the center for her residency, she still learns from other members.
“People will give out pointers, and there are a lot of opportunities for collaboration. I find out different things about being an artist,” she says.
Steven Lee-Davis, an instructor in the Printing and Book Arts Center, says there’s something for everyone at the center, and that everyone has something to learn.
Lee-Davis is a master wood engraver and Roycroft Artisan, but his introduction to the Genesee Center for the Arts and Education was as a student, in Community Darkroom. Now as an instructor, Lee-Davis teaches workshops and classes on engraving and printmaking.
“I teach high school students, college students, pre-K students and retirees. This is open to anyone,” Lee-Davis says.
“When you are a student here you are naturally exposed to all of these opportunities and pretty soon you are learning more and more,” he says. “It’s really a great place to grow as an artist and connect with your community.”
Gouldthorpe says there are plenty of people who start out with little interest in art and find inspiration for a new path in life after coming to the Center.
Take Marsha King, a former nurse who became an artisan pottery maker after taking a class with her daughter in 1996.
“I was immediately fascinated with wheel-throwing,” King says. “It took me seven years before I could even think of myself as an ‘artist.’ But gradually, because of the classes and exposure that were offered at Genesee Pottery, I learned the technical skills required, and how to think in terms of design and a body of work that was all related.”
After working at her craft for nearly 12 years and teaching at the center, she applied for craft shows in Rochester, and was accepted. Her work, Purple Iris Pottery, is now sold online and in various local shows. None of this would be possible without the center, she says.
“The center truly offered me a change of direction in life,” King says. “It was just by fluke that I ever became a potter.”
“People need places to go after college. Much of this equipment isn’t accessible outside of a college class. You come here and get access to it all”
It’s the people who don’t consider themselves artists that the center is trying to reach. To this community, everyone has the potential to be an artist.
“There are artists here who can help you learn,” Gouldthorpe says. “You can be a new person here. We want people who aren’t that into art to come to us.”
Community Darkroom at the Genesee Center for the Arts and Education uses photography as a tool for youth development in its 24-week program, Studio 678. The photography club is free to 30 students from Wilson Foundation Academy, ages 11-14. Students commit to over 100 hours of after-school activities, including learning how to use a 35mm camera, going on field trips to take pictures in the community, developing photographs, and using Photoshop and InDesign to make a book of the club’s pictures taken during the year.
Students learn not only photography, but organization and time management skills, responsibility and teamwork.
Studio 678 provides engagement and development at a critical time in students’ lives, Gouldthorpe says. Those who have completed the program have a graduation rate of more than 85 percent, compared to fewer than 50 percent of those in the Rochester City School District who are not in the program.
Funding limitations keep Studio 678 to Wilson Foundation Academy only, but the center hopes to get more funding through donations to expand the program.