Artists un-leased 

click to enlarge A selection of images by some of the current artists in residence at C.O.M.P. Studios, where emerging creatives can work rent-free. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • A selection of images by some of the current artists in residence at C.O.M.P. Studios, where emerging creatives can work rent-free.
Most visual artists don’t have an office they report to, and either work from home or rent a space. But Rochester has a limited number of studios, and the cost of leasing can be prohibitive for unestablished artists who already struggle with living expenses.

One piece of a solution is C.O.M.P. Studios, a new collective studio that opened at 339 East Ave. in fall 2023. There, painter Unique Fair-Smith and three other artists create, enjoy camaraderie, and showcase their work. And they don’t have to pay a dime.

Fair-Smith, 27, creates portraits of people from marginalized groups who have historically been left out of or debased by the classical art canon. He said C.O.M.P. has enabled him to work on larger canvases, and sell directly to First Friday visitors who witness the artistic process unfold.

“I've had several people who’ve had the chance to see one of my works practically from start to finish,” Fair-Smith said. “I've been able to say, ‘come back next month and you'll see it more developed.’”
click to enlarge Hannah Bell, Aaron Steffer, and Unique Fair-Smith are three of the current artists in residence at C.O.M.P. Studios. Not pictured is fourth resident Rae Wiggins. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Hannah Bell, Aaron Steffer, and Unique Fair-Smith are three of the current artists in residence at C.O.M.P. Studios. Not pictured is fourth resident Rae Wiggins.
C.O.M.P. stands for Creative Opportunities Made Public. It’s supported by The New York State Council for the Arts and ChaShaMa, a NYC-based organization that provides affordable spaces to artists.

“ChaShaMa is excited to be working with several visionary artists from Rochester," said ChaShaMa's artistic director, Anita Durst, "and we look forward to being a part of C.O.M.P. Studios Fall Residency Exhibitions."

The studio is down the street from Rochester Contemporary Art Center, which serves as its facilitator.

RoCo director Bleu Cease said C.O.M.P. functions as a residency for artists to work on specific projects for a minimum of two months.

“There’s a known need for affordable, permanent studio spaces in Rochester, especially closer to downtown,” he said. “This is not intended to replace those — we continue to advocate for other opportunities for artists to have affordable studios on a permanent basis.”
click to enlarge C.O.M.P. Studios not only offers free space to work, but artists also benefit from exposure to built-in audiences of the monthly First Fridays gallery nights. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • C.O.M.P. Studios not only offers free space to work, but artists also benefit from exposure to built-in audiences of the monthly First Fridays gallery nights.
In addition to Fair-Smith, the current residents are artists Aaron Steffer, whose portraits deal with the subconscious and loss; Hannah Bell, whose recent work has tackled the racial disparity in maternal mortality rates; and Rae Wiggins, who makes stark and colorful images inspired by growing up trans in a small, conservative town.

“If visitors are interested in digging in and taking the pulse of a city,” Cease said, “visiting the small, grassroots arts organizations on a gallery night and meeting young, emerging artists is a great way to more fully understand your own art community.”

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis at rochestercontemporary.org/exhibitions.

Rebecca Rafferty is an arts writer at CITY. She can be reached at [email protected].
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