Welcome to Higher Order. We talk to creative people with ambitious ideas that are out to change the world.
Creating art isn’t just a gift, it’s a privilege. Supporting artists so they can live that privilege is at the heart of Rochester Artist Collaborative. In this episode, we had the privilege of speaking with RAC founder, Adam Eaton, about its mission, its grassroots approach to bolstering art in the community, and its very bright future. Join us as we examine the relationship between artists and audience, redefine public art, and reveal why a healthy community means we all need to be stewards to local artists.
Josh: Adam, thank you for joining us.
Adam Eaton: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here with you.
Josh: Before we get into more of the details about what the Rochester Artist Collaborative does, and the current things that you have cooking with the creator’s lab, one of the things we’d really like to dig into a little bit is, let’s set our audience up with a bit of the origin story. What is the Rochester Artist Collaborative and how did it come about?
Adam Eaton: Rochester Artist Collaborative, our mission is to create public art that inspires the community, with the talents of artists in Rochester, New York. We also want to provide artists with the resources they need to create art for the community. Art supplies, art space, and exhibition space, so that they can feature and showcase their work.
Devon: It’s such a wonderful mission that you guys have. How did you identify this need in the Rochester artist community, and how did you get inspired by the idea of building a collaborative?
Adam Eaton: I’ve always had many friends that were artists in Rochester. One time, I was talking to one of my close friends, Dulce Ruiz. This was in 2018, and we were just talking about life. She was telling me about how she is an artist in the community and how she was having a very difficult time being a full-time artist. She was working two other jobs, and she is really talented at creating art, and she wanted to make art her full time career.
She was feeling that being in Rochester, she would not be able to do that. In her mind, she was thinking that moving to another city, potentially New York City or LA, that would be the best place for her to make her career as an artist. I felt really bad about that. I was like, Rochester, the city of the arts, how are you feeling this way? Why don’t you feel supported?
I was like, well, maybe I can help you. I’m your friend, I’m creative, too. I have lots of ideas. I like organizing things. Maybe I can help you.
I actually commissioned two pieces from her. I got an idea to create an icon collection. In Rochester, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are iconic figures in our community. I thought that would be a good idea to create an art collection based on those two iconic figures.
I have a connection with Rochester Contemporary Art Center. I messaged Bleu Cease, who is the director of this space. I asked him if we could have a mini pop-up art show at the gallery space at Rochester Contemporary Art Center. He agreed.
She finished the two pieces of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. We made fine art prints of those. I started the website. On that launch date, we sold in-person and online, and the collection sold out. We promoted it on Facebook and social media. People came, people were excited about Dulce’s work. She felt supported, and it was a success. We did it. She was an artist and she felt that the community was supporting her for that event.
I saw how happy it made her, and my idea was that, if this is making her so happy and she feels so supported in our community, I’m sure other artists feel the same way and need that same type of support. That’s how it all started.
Josh: When you think about the struggles of somebody who wants to take their passion for art and make it into a career, what are some of the biggest things that you think are lacking? Is it materials to create the art? Is it an exhibition space? Tell us a little about some of the barriers that stand between somebody who wants to take this passion and make it their full-time career.
Adam Eaton: Yeah. As I was researching the art world in general, I’ve learned that it is difficult to make a career as an artist. Especially, if you’re a painter or a sculptor, those type of art forms are listed in the fine art world, which is difficult to break into for any artists. But especially for artists who are of color, a lot of times are living in low income neighborhoods. Those artists don’t have the tools and resources to make what the society would deem as fine art, and the material that they need.
I get them paint with high quality paint materials, and high quality canvases, those type of things that would allow an artist to be shown in gallery spaces.
I got the idea to maybe re-imagine the idea that fine art can only be seen in the gallery. Maybe it can be seen in pop-up shops around the community, or even sold online. If I was able to create a platform where people were driven to view the artists, know about the artists, learn about them and want to support them because they feel the connection to the artist.
Devon: That is such a truly grassroots approach, right? I think in so many cases, because my background was originally in theater, and it’s quite similar. How do you get your foot in the door? How do you get started? Where do you get started?
To have someone like you, who just is a doer, who identified the problems and found how to fill those gaps, sometimes people just need to start, and they just need a little help starting. I just feel like that is such a huge thing. Oftentimes, it doesn’t take too long before that trickle becomes a real river.
We want to talk about public art and all sorts of things, but can you walk us through a little bit how Rochester Artist Collaborative functions right now? Who is it? How many artists are there? Where have you been getting these materials to date?
Adam Eaton: Yes. I am the director and also have an assistant. I call her my administrative assistant, Sienna Lindsey. She helps me with creating proposals and grant write-ups and website language and all the administrative stuff that I need. She writes a lot of the documentation and gets research for me.
Also, we have a videographer, which helps us to create content like artist interviews and artist introductions, music videos, video productions, those types of things.
Then, we have the artists, who we collaborate with. One of the many artists who I love in the community is Cocoa Rae. She is a local photographer. Artists like Cocoa Rae, we collaborate with, creating a photography collection, or we help them to secure canvases to create their new paint collection.
A lot of these things are donated to us. The community has donated supplies like canvases, paints, even cameras, they have donated. Also, monetary donations. If they’re not able to provide the actual materials, they can donate monetarily so that artists will be able to have the resources that they need.
Josh: It sounds like such an important way to bring new voices into the art community. Could you talk a little bit about why you feel this level of community building in the arts is important? Why are local artists important to the fabric of a community?
Adam Eaton: I’ve always been creative myself and I love Rochester. I love the people. I think I felt like how Dulce felt. Rochester is a small place. There’s not a lot of opportunity here, not a lot of things to grow if you want to be successful, whatever that truly means in our society.
But when I started to work with her, and to create and be creative, a depression lifted off of me, and I was able to feel that the community is not as small as we see it. We see something through a different lens that changes what it really is.
Through art, I was able discover that the community is actually very large, and the best asset of our community is the people. Through art and creation, I have been able to meet so many amazing people, and that has made my life richer and more fulfilled, and to seem like the city is large and supportive. I believe that everyone in our community can have that feeling through art, because art is so powerful and creating is very powerful, and it just makes you happy. I believe it’s a connecting factor for Rochester as a city, but in any city in the world, art, a lot of times, bring people together and just makes you feel better.
Devon: It’s so true, isn’t it? It’s a language that anybody can speak, right? You can come at it from so many different perspectives and it can touch you in such a personal way, whether you’re the maker or the viewer or the support system.
To your point, there is other art happening in Rochester. There are galleries and there are co-ops and there are other creative spaces. Can you unpack a little bit for us, what was missing? What was the gap that you saw that Rochester Artist Collaborative fills? How does it fit? How do you work with the other people that are playing in this space in the city?
Adam Eaton: Yeah. There are galleries in Rochester, and like you said, art clubs and collectives, but a lot of those galleries and spaces for artists are for established artists. Artists that have been creating art for many years, and a lot of times, artists who are not of color, which is fine, but Rochester Artist Collaborative is filling the gap of emerging artists, and artists of color, or artists that are living in low income neighborhoods in Rochester, which is so much of our community. Rochester is one of the poorest cities in America, unfortunately. The artists in those neighborhoods need the same type of support that established artists are getting in the community.
That’s what I wanted the focus to be, underrepresented artists in Rochester, people of color, women artists, emerging artists, that they need those resources to be able to navigate the art world, which is so difficult to navigate.
Josh: Yeah. To be able to bring those new voices into the Rochester community and have them be heard and be able to see their work. It’s such an important thing you’re doing. You definitely are occupying a space that nobody else is in currently. It’s a need that I think other cities could learn from. Honestly, I think what you’re doing is something that other … Rochester, we’re a midsize city. But other cities in the country, I think there’s probably places where a Rochester Artist Collaborative-like vision could really help bring in new artists forward, so that we can all experience their voices and see their work.
Adam Eaton: I believe that this model that I’m creating can and should be in cities around the United States and internationally, really, because there are so many talented people right in our backyard.
Like Cocoa Rae. I love her work so much. She’s a black woman artist and she finished college for photography, and she didn’t know where to start. For some reason, I guess in college, they don’t always teach you the tools that you truly need to be successful in an art based career. When she moved back to Rochester after school, she was like, where do I start? What’s the first thing that I do? Who do I connect with?
It so happened that we were able to meet each other, and I was able to connect her with grants. She currently has a resident at Flower City Arts. I do research for different opportunities in the community for artists and fill out these applications and do these things so that they just know about it.
A lot of times, artists have one or two other jobs, and art is not their full time career starting out. They don’t have a lot of extra time to be able to research these grants and research these proposals and opportunities. Rochester Artist Collaborative is there to be able to be that bridge for them.
Josh: I went to art school myself for illustration and paint, draw all the time. I know so many other people who’ve gone through that process, and they teach you how to become an artist, but they don’t teach you how to become a business person. To be a professional artist, you have to be a business person. You have to promote yourself. I think those tools that you’re also bringing forward are going to be transformative for so many people who may, as you said, go through school, and you come out and you’re like, “I have this skill. I can do this.” But you don’t know how to market yourself, or you don’t know how to get into an exhibition space. It’s such a critical role that you’re filling.
Adam Eaton: Yes. I even put together tips on how to best use social media. Maybe you should post three times a week, and you should post about these types of things, and make sure you set up your website, and the website designing.
I’m a photographer, so I provide artists with head shots. If you’re going to be posting on social media or your Facebook and LinkedIn, you need a good quality headshot. A part of my art is giving up my time and my resources to be able to create that type of imagery for artists, so that they can be viewed as professionals.
Josh: That’s great. One of the things we wanted to talk about a little bit is public art. It’s a term that gets used a lot, right? People talk about public art, and they think of sculptures or murals or things. But like everything else in the COVID world we’ve gone through, it’s really changed a little bit. Could you tell us how the RAC, and how you see public art now, and where you’d like to see public art go?
Adam Eaton: Public art in Rochester is a lot of times murals and sculptures. That cuts a lot of the artists that are not in that field of art. If you’re not a muralist or you’re not a sculpture, the city may not support a public work of art from you.
I believe that public art has to be redefined. Because we’re living in a digital world and everything is via Zoom or on social media or through websites, public art has to change and become maybe more virtual. A multimedia idea is not just being a muralist and having your painting on the building, which is amazing and great, but there’s also photographers in the community who can create public installations and maybe a pop-up location, or have a virtual gallery on a public space online.
Painters who are not muralists can create collections that may be available for the community so that everyone can partake in their works of art, and you may not have to go to the location or go to the park to see the work.
I believe that redefining what public art is, maybe it’s music, and maybe it’s a video production, and a video installation that everyone can view on a centralized hub in the community.
Devon: I love that. I love the thought of that. Especially during this time of pandemic, when we’re so separated from each other physically, I feel like it’s really pushed us all to connect with people in other ways. It’s so innovative to already … We have this infrastructure already in place and people are already using it to connect around the world and across the country. Putting these two things together just seems so natural at this stage in particular.
I think another thing that’s so great about it is that it really takes these local artists and it puts them on a national stage, focusing on community art, but it’s giving them exposure way beyond the community.
You listed so many different kinds of art in that answer. Are all of those kinds of art that people in Rochester are making and people that are involved with Collaborative are making?
Adam Eaton: Yes. We want to eventually showcase all mediums of art, painting, photography, dance, sculpture. I am developing a way to be able to do that all in the digital space.
Maybe if a sculpturist, we do a video production of you creating a sculpture, and then we do an artist interview. Maybe a podcast idea so that people can learn about your work, but also have a component where they can see you creating your work. If you’re a photographer, we can have a virtual gallery online where people can view all your photos and images, and also posted on Facebook, so people can save it in their feeds and tag and share and like and send it around the community.
Video is going to be a very big part of it. If you’re a dancer, we would create a video production of you dancing. That’s why we also need space. The creator’s lab idea that we’re developing, you need space to create all of this art platform, so that the community can see what the artists are creating. We’re trying to build a space that we can create to show people what the artists are creating.
Josh: That’s a perfect segue to our next question. The creative lab, let’s talk about that a little bit. It’s been a key project for you over the last year. What is it? How does it work?
Adam Eaton: The Creative Lab is a space where artists can go to have the resources that they need to create. It will have tools and supplies and a large enough space so that artists can maybe work in their maybe separate hubs, but also be able to collaborate with other artists, and also an exhibition component. A gallery, so that artists can be able to exhibit their work and have it be seen by the community.
Starting out, because we’re an emerging organization, I had the idea of start small, I believe. The first Creators Lab, Studio One, is a photography studio. In the downtown Rochester area, how was able to secure a space to create a photography studio, so that local photographers in the community have access to equipment, lighting, backdrops, and they will be able to have access to that space 24 hours a day, really.
It is a subscription model currently, but we’re working on being able to have funding so that artists can have scholarships, so artists who maybe won’t be able to subscribe to the space monthly, or don’t have the available funds or means to do that, there’ll be community-based scholarships so that they will have access to the Creator’s Lab and be able to create photography and videography productions. That’s what we’re slowly building now.
Josh: Does the subscription model work in that an artist can essentially subscribe to have a bit of time each day, each week, in the space? They could go schedule, I want to work at 8:00 at night on Wednesdays, and they could go in and have access to both the materials and the space?
Adam Eaton: Correct. There will be a community calendar that will be on the website, and artists can say, “I’m free Monday at 9:00 PM,” and, “I’m going to be in the studio at this time.”
At this time, only one artist at a time really should be in the space because of COVID and other restrictions. But eventually, we want to have it where multiple artists can be in the space at a time, and be creating, and have enough space to be able to create their artwork. But currently, the space is just large enough so that one artist can create at a specific time, but it’s available to them 24 hours a day. Each artist has a digital key code and they can go use the space, but you just have to put it on the calendar. “I’ll be in the space at this time, for one to two hours, or longer if it’s available.”
I want to try to make it as simple and easy as possible. This is like a template for this idea. I’ve had this idea of since the beginning of Rochester Artist Collaborative in general. It’s very necessary, because I have had emails and emails of artists who are like, “Please allow me to use the space.” I have been looking for a photography studio that’s clean and safe and has equipment and good lighting, and not in the basement of some warehouse. I believe that if you’re a low-income artists, why do you have to be relegated to a space that is not suitable or not beautiful?
We’re making sure that artists have high tech, cutting edge technology, and it’s in a space that is well lit and clean and beautiful and it just feels good.
Devon: This is imminent, correct? Tell us about when it’s opening and if artists are listening, cause you better be listening. But if artists are listening, how do they get involved? How do they get part of this collaborative?
Adam Eaton: Saturday, March 6, is the grand opening of Studio One, the first creator’s lab. We’re going to have an open house tour, so the artists can go and view the space and see the equipment and see how it’s set up. The community can also come and tour the space and just see what we’re doing and what we’re creating for the community.
Then, after that, I will be releasing a online submission form, so artist can let us know if they’re interested in using the space.
Devon: You may have already said it, but if you did, I missed it. It’s worth saying again, what’s the address? Where is it?
Adam Eaton: The address will be 936 Exchange Street in Rochester. It’s really close to downtown.
Josh: Congratulations. That’s such an exciting milestone for the whole community.
Adam Eaton: Thank you. It’s been a labor of love, but lots of fun.
Josh: One of the things that we talk about a lot at Truth Collective, and is really important to us, as an agency and as creative people, is this idea of honestly creative work. When you hear honestly creative work, what does that mean to you? How do you ensure honesty stays in the art process and in the relationships you’re forming through Rochester Artist Collaborative?
Adam Eaton: Well, I always tell artists that you should create what you feel and what is relevant and meaningful to you. You can create art that is trendy, but I believe the best art, in my opinion, comes from art that means something to the artists personally. Make sure you’re honest in what your subject matter is, how you create the art. It means something to you first, don’t try to necessarily please the world or what people may want you to produce, but create things that have meaning to you and your family and your community. That is the type of art that I believe has the most impact.
Devon: Yeah. That authenticity really, really resonates and I think shines through, when it’s at the base and the core of the work.
Adam Eaton: I would say, you have to love your art first before the world may love it.
Devon: It’s true. Or you won’t ever be happy with it, right?
Adam Eaton: Yes.
Devon: I mean, as someone who’s a dreamer, right? And a doer, because you’ve dreamed this and you’ve made it happen. Where do you see the future of the collaborative? Where do you see it in five years? 10 years? I mean, obviously, you have some plans for it.
Adam Eaton: I do. The creator’s lab is just a small space now, but I would want it to be in the hub and center of downtown Rochester. It’s a place that all in the community know about and can go and see and use, and use the resources, use the tools, use the equipment and the space, and the community just knows, go to the creator’s lab and you can see artists working and creating, and you can also view their collections and buy their artwork in this space.
Also, if I’m an emerging artist, I can use the space, and it’s affordable, and it’s accessible to me and everyone in the community. Because Rochester currently calls itself the city of the arts. But I don’t believe that we’re truly expressing what a city of the arts means. But with the idea of the creator’s lab and truly supporting artists in our community, we can truly become the city of the arts.
Josh: Just to dig into that thought a little bit more, thinking about Rochester as the city of the arts, what do you think is missing to get us there? Is it more involvement from the entire community? Is it more resources? How do we fully realize the name?
Adam Eaton: I believe that it includes everyone. It includes leadership, the local Rochester government, I don’t know, city council, the mayor’s office. All of those things have to work together. It also involves community members, too. Individual community members. Maybe giving small donations or giving art supplies, or even just the idea of liking a post on Facebook and sharing it and tagging it, and showing that you are excited about local artists and making sure that they feel supported. All those small things can change the aura and feeling of making a community and city, the city of the arts.
If we’re all about supporting local artists and making sure that they have the tools and resources that they need to create, but also making sure that we support them, maybe monetarily, or telling our friends about them, and being excited about local artists. That is all a part of it.
Josh: Yeah. It’s a great thought because I think sometimes, when you say support the arts, it’s like, oh, we’re going to make space so artists can create art. But the monetary side is also really important. Buy their art. Buy local art. Support people with donations. All of that stuff, I think, is the other side of it that doesn’t get talked about as often as maybe it should.
Adam Eaton: Yeah. For me, when I had the first person buy one of my prints, they sent me a picture of my print and their living room. I was moved to tears. The feeling of that, it meant so much. I don’t know. I really can’t describe it, but it’s just the feeling that you appreciated what I created in my small studio, that you put it in your home. That means more to me than even having it in a world-renowned art gallery. Someone’s home and someone’s space is their haven, and for them to have a piece of your artwork on their walls, and for them to really appreciate it and truly love it, it means so much to artists.
Josh: Yeah. To have it in their personal space and a part of their everyday life, it’s got to be a really special feeling.
One other question I wanted to ask was, we talked a little bit about how the model that you’re creating could go to other cities, could go international. If somebody else out there is listening, and they’re in Cleveland or somewhere, and they hear what you’re saying, what would be the one piece of advice you would give somebody who wanted to start an artists collaborative in their community?
Adam Eaton: I would say only started if your intentions are pure. Your intention should be to support local artists in your community. That should be the main goal and the main reason why you would want to start something. You shouldn’t do it for any personal gain or monetary gain, those types of things. It should truly be to support the community, support artists, and the people in our neighborhoods.
Devon: That’s such a great piece of advice, right? Because I think anything less altruistic, it muddies the water. It’s been a lot of work for you, too. As you said, it was a labor of love.
I’m still really thinking about what you were talking about just before Josh asked that question about the audience. I think there’s such a misconception about art that we, the audience, are just supposed to view it, right? We’re not an active participant. We could unpack the philosophical question, does one exist without the other? But I think in order for it to be a true success in a community, and a community to buoy and bolster an artists community, we have to be active participants. It’s not just you guys making stuff and me looking at it, it’s a mutualistic, mutually beneficial relationship.
For those who are ready to be mutually beneficial in the art world and register, where do they find you? How do they get involved? I know you’ve got a fundraiser going on right now, a fundraising campaign. How do people find RAC to help give support, volunteer, whatever?
Adam Eaton: You can always go to our website, RochesterArtistCollaborative.com. Through our website, you’ll be linked to our information pages, which include our Facebook and Instagram accounts. You can go to my website, AdamEaton.com, which will link you to everything about Rochester Artist Collaborative and my personal art. Then, also, my Facebook and Instagram accounts @AdamEatonArt. You can email me directly.
I’m actually very accessible and I answer all messages and emails and I respond back to all comments. Even if you just leave a comment under a photo or a post on Instagram, I will respond to you. It’s very easy to connect with me and Rochester Artist Collaborative. Just leave a comment, like, share. I always say thank you to every share and post. It’s very easy to get in contact with us.
Josh: Tell people about how to donate, because I know that you’ve got a fundraising campaign right now. Tell us a little bit about how someone donates. Is it tax deductible? Is it a 501(c)(3)? What will you be using that money towards?
Adam Eaton: Yes. All donations to Rochester Artist Collaborative are tax deductible through the field. Rochester Artist Collaborative is partnered with our fiscal sponsor, Field, which is a New York-based 501(c)(3), which supports emerging community art programs.
If you go to our website, RochesterArtistCollaborative.com, you’ll see the donate section, which would link you to donate through the field. But you can also donate directly to our Facebook fundraising campaign. I know a lot of people are connected via Facebook. If you want to donate directly to Facebook, you can do that.
We’re running a $25,000 fundraising campaign. That, it could be either be a year or two year funding budget, because we’re still emerging. That will be used to create spaces like the creator’s lab. We want to be able to have more of the creator’s lab spaces in the community. We have one currently, but we want to have other spaces that are not just photography. Maybe there’ll be a creator’s lab for dance, and maybe there’ll be a creator’s lab for painters.
The money will be used for that, but also artists equipment. Each creator’s lab needs equipment and tools. A lot of times, artists that collab with us need canvases and paints and those things to finish a collection so that they can be exhibited. Unfortunately, our society needs money for those things, so we need funding to be able to continue.
Josh: Well, Adam, it’s been such an inspiration to talk to you, and we’re so excited about the work you’re doing in our community. Everybody out there, you heard all the ways to donate. Please go do so. Follow on social. Donate with supplies or funds if you can. Thanks so much for joining us, today.
Devon: Thanks, Adam.
Adam Eaton: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
Outro: Well, that’s our show. We hope you’re inspired to pursue your truth through your hard work and creativity. Let’s chase it together. This has been a Truth Collective production.