Summer Prototyping Festival makes Permanent Impact on City

Yesterday morning, the first in a series of three Art + Business = Innovation breakfast events was presented by Rochester Downtown Alliance, Destination Medical Center (DMC), and Rochester Art Center. The purpose: to discuss how art and business intersect. While the connection between these entities may not seem so straightforward, they are linked. Art can not only make a city environment more unique, it can spur creativity among the city’s residents, including innovation in the business sector.

The first installment of the Art + Business = Innovation series focused on “Creative Place Making: the Rochester Prototype.” In a city best known for strong medical roots, this past year the PlaceMakers | Rochester Prototyping Festival activated the creative side of Rochester. This event engaged Rochester residents in a community-wide discussion of what the future of Rochester could look like and got residents to consider how they could transform the urban environment around them into something that could better support a healthy city.

The germ of an idea for the prototyping fest began back in December of last year when it was first introduced by Patrick Seeb, DMC Director of Economic Development and Placemaking. An Idea Jam event took place in early June to brainstorm ways that we, as ordinary Rochester citizens, could transform aspects of Rochester along seven selected foci that residents associated with a healthy city including: nature, food, connectedness, inclusivity, accessibility, diversity, and art. Over fifty-five community members attended this event and twenty individual ideas emerged from the session. By the end of June, teams submitted these ideas as proposals to construct prototypes, or small creations to test their ideas. Sixteen designs in total where chosen to be developed into full prototypes. Teams then had three months to bring their ideas to life. In September, a three day PlaceMakers Prototyping Festival took place in downtown, displaying these concepts on the streets of Rochester to encourage engagement and feedback from the community.

The "Rocker Talker" built by Tyler Whitehead and Chuck Stewart.

The "Rocker Talker" built by Tyler Whitehead and Chuck Stewart.

The PlaceMakers Prototyping Festival had three main goals: to test ideas, to engage the community, and to demonstrate change. As stated by Patrick Seeb, Rochester is undergoing a tremendous change right now. And it’s important for us, as residents of this community, to own and shape the change that is occurring around us. The prototyping festival demonstrated the intersection of creativity and place. It encouraged the idea that “place” is something that we live in, but it is also something that we very much have the power to change. All we have to do is just ask and try.

Five to six thousand people attended the festival, as demonstrated by statistics shared by the organizers. 89% of the attendees felt more creative after the event, while 89% also felt more engaged with the downtown area. Prototype Maker Dee Sabol related that people, in general, want to feel more connected, and the festival offered them the opportunity to meet in a new place. Besides creating a sense of community, the festival also spurred discussions about belonging, or feelings of not belonging, in the city.

And as Rochester Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jenna Bowman stated, the PlaceMakers Prototyping Fest brought something else to the surface, something that might not be quite as apparent. Risk taking, and even failure, were almost requisite to this experience. The makers creating these prototypes not only gave up large chunks of their time to bring their ideas to life, they also had to stand up next to their work at the festival and engage with the community, witnessing first-hand the reactions to their idea.

Now that the festival is over, how will this event impact the future of Rochester?

As Maker Rene Lafflam stated, lessons learned during the Prototyping Festival could have lasting impact on the city. Rene and her team developed the prototype “Creative Crosswalks.” This concept not only brought art into the crosswalks to make them more aesthetically pleasing, it made pedestrian crossings more noticeable, promoting a safer downtown walking environment. Painted crosswalks are not a new concept, even in Rochester. But the festival taught Rene and her team the correct protocol to follow to get a work like this implemented into Rochester neighborhoods, potentially allowing “Creative Crosswalks” to start popping up around the city soon.

Some of the prototypes found permanent homes. The Rochester Art Center purchased two of the structures, the “Rocker Talker,” a large rocking platform that can seat multiple people, and “Chime In,” a set of life-size, multicolor chimes, for Mayo Park. This space will, hopefully, slowly be transformed into a public art park.

"The Artery" built by Eric Anderson, Rose Anderson, Diane Klein, Matthew Moore, Anthony Huber, Nel Pilgrim-Rukavina, and Grace Wengler.

"The Artery" built by Eric Anderson, Rose Anderson, Diane Klein, Matthew Moore, Anthony Huber, Nel Pilgrim-Rukavina, and Grace Wengler.

There are plans to permanently house the “Artery,” a three-dimensional installation that relays significant health events in the city by changing colors, in the 3rd Street Parking Ramp. A storm water waste management system will also be installed in this ramp as part art project, part educational piece to encourage public interaction and learning.

PlaceMakers | Rochester Prototyping Festival activated and showcased a part of Rochester that often goes unrecognized. It allowed residents to get a taste of what role they can play as this city develops. Now it’s time for us to play our parts and help to mold the future of our city into an inclusive place for all of our residents.