BY JASON CAMPBELL
I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the Rochester area having an interest in the arts who has not heard of the Hungerford Building. That doesn’t mean everyone would know where to find it or what actually happens there, but it seems as though Hungerford is synonymous with art. The Hungerford website describes itself as “a community of artists, craftspeople, and businesses,” and it truly is an eclectic mix of each. The building itself started as an industrial plant producing flavored syrups, most notably the flavoring for A&W Root Beer (the Hungerford Smith brand still exists as a product line for ConAgra Foodservice). The Hungerford is located on East Main St where it intersects that random jag of Goodman St., just down the road from the Public Market. It’s a large brick structure standing four stories high that screams 100-year-old industry. Like many early industrial spaces in Rochester it has been retrofitted and now houses many studios, galleries, businesses, and even some apartments.
On the first Friday of each month many of the studios and galleries are open to the public. It is an ideal way to discover new artists and meet an array of interesting people. If you’re into any particular medium, chances are you can find it here. The fact that so many artisans can coexist under one roof is amazing. As soon as you walk through the doors you’re instantly hit with a sensory smorgasbord with sounds and smells coming at you from all directions. There’s music blasting from …where? Not sure yet? Is it the studio with all the Christmas lights announcing that yes, they are indeed open tonight? Or, is it from the studio where most of its goods are filling the hallway? Some doors are closed and the spaces are dormant. Other studios have a bit of the college dorm vibe, where you’re welcome to enter as long you already know everyone inside. But, somehow, all these approaches work together and everyone manages to do their own thing. Creative energy is definitely contagious at The Hungerford and is here in abundance. Whether the creative spirit is openly shared with neighboring artisans or wafting under closed doors, it manifests itself in numerous types of arts and crafts. A list of occupants can be found on the Hungerford website: http://www.thehungerford.com
Creating art is as intimate an endeavor as there is; artists literally put a part of themselves on display for others to judge. Typically, such judgement occurs in a gallery, designed to isolate the work from the artist, thereby allowing the art to be viewed sans context or clues about how or why it was made. However, in the open studio environment, art and creator are a singular entity. The entire space lends insight into the personality of the artists and how they create their art. Art making is about process – technique and strategy, and the implementation of each. If art were solely about product, it would be mass produced in a factory somewhere. Not many care how mass produced goods are made, they’re everywhere. True art is made in limited quantity, and often a piece is one of a kind. This also applies to the artists themselves – many of whom are one of a kind in terms of their personalities. I’ve worked with the public in a retail setting for many years now and meeting new people is never boring. Especially art people. Creative minds work in creative ways. They tend to dress differently, talk differently, and act differently. Some creative people love to talk about anything and everything and share way more than you’d ever really want to know from a stranger in an art studio. Others guard information like they were a breathing vault, from which no insight shall escape. All details about their process are under strict need-to-know orders, and no one needs to know. But herein lies the beauty of the Hungerford as an art community: all of these artisans work, and sometimes live, next to each other.
Variety also applies to the people visiting the open studios. All ages, races, and sexes were out in droves to walk the halls and stop in wherever they desired. Some people were visiting friends and some were making new friends. Unfortunately for the artists, not everyone was there to purchase goods. Many people, myself included, were there to experience the energy and atmosphere of this art and craft community. Personally, I always preferred to draw or paint by myself, wholly absorbed in my own separate world. During class it always felt like I was mostly going through the motions because there were distractions everywhere. Some work got done, but the volume paled in comparison to my output when I was alone. Here in the Hungerford it seems as though many of the occupants thrive on the group dynamic. Seeing it in person it makes sense to me now. I think creative people tend to feel isolated from most of the world because they are a little different. To find like minded people right next door can be invigorating and that energy can drive their output to new heights. The chance to be social and get to know other artists is one of the main appeals of a space like the Hungerford. For some of the folks here art is their life, their purpose, their source of income. For others it’s a hobby or an escape from their normal, everyday lives, where they can fulfill that creative urge that their friends or family don’t quite understand.
Again, art is a process. It’s about how art is made, the concept and the steps taken to actually try to recreate that image in your head and transfer it into something real. Something you can see, and feel, and smell, something of weight and value. Think of the old saying that goes something like, “the journey is more important than the destination.” The Hungerford serves as both part of the art making journey and a destination.