A six-block stretch on the east side here is graced with about two dozen sculptures, 10 artistic benches, three creative bus shelters, dozens of imaginative inlays in the sidewalks, and enough other art to justify the area's official name of ArtWalk.
It is a decade-old outdoor museum, funded by city, state and private grants, extending between two of Rochester's major museums, the Memorial Art Gallery and the George Eastman House/International Museum of Photography (although neither is officially a part of ArtWalk).
Some of the sculptures are large, like "Balance" by Carlos Caballero-Perez, about the height of two grown men. Some are noticeable only if you look carefully, like the nine light poles studded with mosaics. About 350 area residents worked under the direction of artistic adviser Brenda Weber to apply the mosaics.
Some are clearly appropriate for their locations, like the tall yellow pencil in front of Writers & Books, a literary center. And the three sculptures representing sexual union (for example, the circle with a protruding arrow) placed in front of a gay bar.
ArtWalk currently extends six blocks, east-west, along University Avenue (five blocks if you are on the other side of University, since not all cross-streets extend across both sides of the avenue). Plans call for ArtWalk eventually to extend farther west to reach the city's School of the Arts, farther south to reach the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and farther north to reach the Anderson Arts Building and Village Gate, home to many artists' studios.
The city officially designates the whole area the Neighborhood of the Arts.
There are at least a dozen places to eat and drink in this "neighborhood," but perhaps the most appropriate one for a visitor to see is Starry Nites Cafe, which includes a full-wall copy of the Vincent Van Gogh painting for which it is named. It also has copies of other Van Gogh paintings and often shows works by local living artists.
ArtWalk originated when Rochester planned to widen University Avenue to allow traffic to flow more smoothly. People living in the area, worried that the expansion would result in speeding, convinced city officials to create ArtWalk instead.
Eileen Mance, who lives half a block from University and who was involved in the successful effort to get the city to alter its plans, said ArtWalk is an example of how government, private businesses and individuals can work together to create something for the public good.
Some of what is along ArtWalk would be there even if ArtWalk wasn't, but those things are still inviting parts of the experience. Perhaps most notable in this regard is the building that houses Writers & Books. It was originally a police station, designed in the early 20th century by Claude Bragdon, one of Rochester's most famous architects.
A metal gate in the front of Writers & Books was once the door on the lockup at the rear of the police station, the place where drunks and others might be put for a night or two. On the top of pillars alongside that old jailhouse door are two large stone books, sculpted by Bryan Manning. Look for them, because they are among the easiest sculptures to miss as you stroll along ArtWalk.
Nearby is an old-fashioned, red telephone booth, the kind Clark Kent would use to change into his Superman outfit. It's known as the Poetry Booth, and it was intended to be a place where a passer-by could pick up the phone and listen to a poem, but, sadly, it seldom works anymore.
The sidewalk itself is part of the displays. It includes dozens of etched squares (12 repeated designs): one with people running, one of a cityscape, one with the letters maerd (dream spelled backward).
Perhaps the single most popular sculpture along the way is Chubby, a slightly overweight white horse with a red blanket. His leg was once broken by vandals, but unlike living horses, he was repaired, not shot. Standing near Chubby is a gray policeman in what appears to be a 19th century uniform. Unlike his equine friend, the officer lacks a name.
Chubby is in front of an old fire station, now Craft Company Number 6. Its two floors offer unusual artsy, crafty gifts, including brightly colored tables and chairs, jewelry, wall hangings and other things designed to decorate a home with a bit of flair.
A walk along the full length of the current ArtWalk could probably be completed in about 10 minutes, but if you stop to inspect each sculpture and other works of art, expect to spend up to an hour.
For a place to rest, try one of the artistic benches. Particularly inviting for many visitors is the one made of four hands cupped to cradle your bottom. If it rains, duck into one of the bus shelters. Most appropriate might be the one shaped like a giant umbrella.
And when the rain stops, go look at the cat sculpture by Vincent Massaro, or the two benches shaped like giant cups of coffee by Kevin Doyle, or, at Village Gate, the giant, untitled head sculpted by Sean Calyer.
Oh, if you are going to go off ArtWalk to see artwork outside of Village Gate and the Memorial Art Gallery and the School of the Arts and every direction for a block or two, expect your visit to last at least two or three hours.
If you go:
Take the Thruway (Interstate 90) to I-390 north, then to I-590 north. Exit at Blossom Road, turn left onto Blossom until it blends into University Avenue. In about a mile you'll be at ArtWalk. There is no sign, but it's easily recognizable because of the sculptures. There is lots of free parking on University and side streets.