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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Big Picture Rochester, Rochester, New York

Among the more exciting urban-area photo installation projects is Big Picture Rochester, based in Rochester, New York. An original grant of $65,000 from a downtown enhancement fund allowed for printing and installing the initial images.

The originator of the project was Ken Sato, a student at Monroe Community College studying public administration. The international headquarters of the Xerox corporation in downtown Rochester opened some interesting partnership opportunities. Rochester has identified itself as the "Image Capital of the World" thanks to the presence of major imaging companies like Kodak and Xerox. This project hoped to build on that reputation by making the world's largest outdoor photo gallery.

In 2009 the exhibition, Downtown: The Way It Was, coincided with celebration of Rochester's 175th birthday, and featured photo installations at a number of high-visibility locations downtown. A map and walking tour was also developed, encouraging people to walk through the downtown district.

As a freestanding initiative this invites some interesting questions. In the case where art is installed in windows of vacant or underutilized buildings is this the highest and best use? What are the sources of the obsolescence and abandonment and is this an appropriate response? And does this limit in any way the future redevelopment potential of the city center?

When taken together with the VisitRochester campaign, an attractive downtown visitors center, and wayfinding signage initiative, these are all positive steps in the efforts for Rochester to reinvent itself. Rochester and the work of the Big Picture project provide an interesting example for other downtown areas to follow.

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