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Season 4, Episode 5 · 5 months ago

Episode 405 - Not-So-Abandoned Subway

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Underneath the busy streets of Rochester sits the abandoned subway, a local hub for creativity and self expression; a space where concrete walls come to life in visceral color and motion. But where did it all begin? Join Hear UR in exploring the rich history of Rochester’s street art.

All right, scary the unknown. But there's a light at the end of the tonneau and you look at a wall and you think to yourself, I wonder how many layers is behind this, this one piece. You see the colors, you know the light comes in from. You know both sides there. So the first time you went down there is remember being a little scared almost, because it's like you know your underneath a city and you're in the dark. You know there's the unknown. There's also like the unknown because you're not sure like what kind of art you're going to en counter. You know there's a lot of you don't full in the story worked on there. We're going to build a public transit system. Then the S or s and they never got around to finishing it. So's a couple of miles of tunnel underneath the city that basically run rolling the entirety of downtown. In between the beloved southern food chain Denosaur Barbecue and the equally beloved Rochester Public Library, runs the court street bridge. Cross that bridge, make a right towards the old aqueduct. Good down this well paved, well kept walkway where you might pass a pair of joggers or some businessmen taking launch along the water. Follow it for a minute until you reach a set of stairs leading up past blue cross arena. Don't take them. Turn to your right, where the railing bows out and the platform extends slightly over the water. You'll notice one of the large curved cutouts is perfectly positioned against the platform, with a waist high railing. Jump It. Come on, just swing your leg over. You should now find yourself in a long cavern. There so much just on the ground you...

...can't even feel the floor in some places, depending on the day. Your nose isn't having that much fun either, catching the same unsatisfactory smells that plague modern subway systems. But you're here for your eyes. For about a mile you'll walk through a living, Changing Museum of everything from doodles to murals. You'll see what was clearly a burst of boredom spray painted right next to a work that could only have taken hours, and both of them blow. You will welcome to what has come to fill the walls of Rochester's abandoned the subway. I'm Jacently, I'm still a Wilkins and I'm Haley Higgins. This is here. You are season for Rochester retold episode five. Rochesters not so abandoned subway. When the pandemics kind of Hit, there wasn't any opportunity to sit in the news room and so I've been doing a lot more hiking and as I've start doing more hiking I started doing more exploration around roster and just kind of realized, like you know, there's this this really amazing history over the last fourty years of graffiti and public art and then whether it be wall therapy, with with the you know, the hundred plus murals that they've commissioned in there on the city. This is will cleveland, a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle by day and graffiti art enthusiasts also by day, but usually on his off hours. Cleveland's made a habit of documenting the many murals decorating countless walls around the city. But Rochester's work stretched far beyond officially organized people of all walks of life mark their temporary presence permanently against every city's walls in momentary color words and images they blusting enough with you know, kind of tell me about some of their secret spots. So, you know, like when I...

...post things, I don't tag locations because I want to keep like the integrity of some of these abandoned spaces and some of these secret spaces. So that kind of where kind of where it started, and it just became like I'm just going to start posting on instagram because it's kind of fun to like, you know, find all these things, but it's also more fun to like just show people all this underscover you to in the city Russia. So what does it mean when graffiti, an act of expression that was previously interpreted as a sign of social decline, becomes a defining feature of a city? What does it mean to view these expressions as works of art? And where did it all begin? So I've heard, you know, it was the s and s. Some people, you know, found it into s. Some are going down there and the last weekend. So it's kind of this really cool and every evolving space. This is Quaje Dono, a photographer and writer especially interested in the public art scene. Among many other things, he works with wall therapy, a public art project that strives to bring Urals to all parts of the city in an effort to build a lot of what I heard originally was, you know, it was a place that provided sunlight and you can work during a day but you wouldn't be bothered because no one knew you were there. So it kind of provided you know, when you think of straight art, you think of graffiti. A lot of times the artist who are creating may not have the art supplies to go or the money to go out by art supplies like canvas or, you know, other things of that nature, and so they're going, you know, down into these spaces and creating, they really practicing. The subway provided a lot of that and it still provides a lot of that where, you know, a lot of public artists are still doing a lot of the street art, you know, on commissioned pieces, on sanctioned pieces, you know, illegal to an extent,...

...but they're creating and they're using, you know, their voice, they're they're talented to do that. Although it's labeled the abandoned subway, this mile and a half of underground space is anything but. There are decades of paint covering every single inch of concrete. There may be abandoned items like beer cans, paint cans and the occasional suitcase, but the trails of footprints and the smell of wet paint reveala space that is very much alike. The subway has been defunct for so long. It's been a home to street art longer than a hub of public transportation. And, much like how the graffiti was a matter of happenstance, the original development of the subway was borne out of opportunity rather than deliberate planning. Before the turn of the twentieth century there was a second body of water cutting through the heart of Rochester, the Erie Canal, but by nineteen nineteen the last boat had sailed through the city locks and the canal had been rerouted elsewhere, leaving behind a vast cavern running through the rest of downtown and a massive stone structure on broad street. That same stone structure, formerly the second genesee aqueduct, where the Erie Canal was carried over the genesee river, houses almost all of the ever changing walls of graffiti. Today, to make use of the caverns already in place, the subway was laid over this former canal and, similar to how abandoned subway is a bit of a...

...misnomer really, referring to a mile long stretch of graffiti art, the Rochester subway of the twenty century is a misnomer for what was in reality roughly eight miles of above ground rails and a measly one and a half miles of actual underground traveling we're built today, the term light rail might be a little more appropriate. Whatever you want to call it, the public transit system was both the mark of a booming city and a blessing to workers living in a time before the ubiquitousness of the automobile. The start of the subway is clear. Formerly opened in nineteen twenty seven, but it's decline is a bit more complicated. Over the next four decades it would change ownerships, roots and functions several times. The last public transportation trip was made in one thousand nine hundred and fifty six, but some portions were used to transport goods up until nineteen nine sents. During that same time, portions of the subway were turned into sections of expressways I ninety and I five hundred ninety. It's fitting the subway doesn't have an eat conclusion, since the spaces cycled through so many different functions. In another city, it might not have been forgotten and it may never have had the chance. The House the proof of life currentlys today. It's become a wellknown space for the community to come together and create, to leave their mark on a concrete campus. The art that's made within these walls as a meditation and temporality. No work is safe for long, but they aren't meant to be. In the same way, the space itself has been a permanent structure with temporary uses. You know, I've broth comes here to pain. It's kind of good local spot where everyone comes and just gets to do legal graffiti and expressive pain and enjoy themselves. But it's, you know, it's the nature of the arts all ephemeral. You know, it's and I think...

...the refrigerators them your host and artist and everyone would admit that too, that, you know, they don't expect their lush river. In two thousand and eighteen the city of Rochester started to develop plans to revitalize the city by creating more communal spaces running along the genesee river. The Project Rock, the riverway, that's ROC the riverway hopes to create attractive pedestrian focus walkways, better serve the disabled community and provide water oriented development to attract new employers and workers. The proposal of over a dozen riverside projects by former Mayor Lovely Warren received a fifty million dollars state grant from former governor Andrew Cuomo. You can find more details about this project at city of Rochester Dot Gov. forward slash roc the riverway. One of the first tasks on their long list of projects is the complete reimagining of the aqueducts and subway space. They hope to remove the top deck of the Broad Street Bridge and make it an uncovered walkway, the final point in the already in existence genesee river trackway. I'm really heartbroken about that. It's I mean, I understand why they're going to do it. I think this has potentially really cool, but it's it's sad to be that. You know that Griffy raters are going to lose this form that they put joyed for decades. As an artist, Quaji's main concern is that this plan keeps the preservation of art and mind. Yeah, it's a it's interesting and I think part of those processes are always interesting. So I have not reviewed the plan in detail, but I know there are parts of the plan, including the apartment that's current. Manu, you know, was part of removed art...

...and remove pieces right, and I think when you go into a space remove what was there and it's something that is really connected to folks, you know you have to have another plan and I think any plan should include elements of public art right. It shouldn't be an afterthought, it shouldn't be a okay, people are very upset right now. Let's wrap this into to the plan. It should be recognizing the importance of that space for decades and saying, you know what, how can we include some of these folks, include some of these elements and whatever design we have? After hearing that the physical space of the abandoned subway would be phased out in the next few years, I was devastated. I don't know why. The works change frequently. Anyway, they're meant to be a fact emeral, so what does it matter if a few of them go down all at once? When I heard the subway was going to close, my mind jumped to, of all places, my high school environmental science class. One of the few things I learned that actually stuck with me was that there's this thing called background extinction. Rate extinction is a normal part of evolution by virtue of environmental changes. Natural selection and the cruel crule world of the Animal Kingdom. Some species just don't make it. This is normal. It only becomes a problem when that rate unnaturally spikes, say in the form of a comet that wipes out ninety nine percent of living things, or in the face of global warming, as areas rapidly become inhospitable. The subway has a background extinction rate, works cropping up and disappearing just as fast. But I couldn't help myself from mourning catastrophe in the form of rock the river way. Although the subway may be the biggest house of graffiti art, as will told us, it's not the only one. I mean, I'm familiar with what they're going to do. I understand why they're going to...

...do it. They've been talking about doing something with that abandoned subway since the subway closed in the ence. I mean all it's been sitting to Nake it for that long and it's, you know, probably slowly deteriords. So something needs to be done to, you know, to kind of ensure and strengthen the infrastructure, I'm sure. But yeah, like I said, it sends me that you know they're going to lose a form. But you know, if, if we if we learned nothing else were freedy writers, is that they're very sourceful and I'm sure they will find a new spot. You know, you see tons of work up with the cops of water towers, the you know the empty water towers, and there's different spots in the around town that kind of kind of add to that rotating art gallery quality that you get at the subway. At the same time, the abandoned subway was never meant to last. It's smack in the center of downtown. It couldn't stay forgotten forever. The art that canvasses the subway walls are not necessarily meant to have the spotlight, either in the city or in comparison to their neighbors. What makes the space so impressive is the sheer volume of creation collected. Admittedly, not every John was here, scrolled hastily by the hands of an amateur, is going to take your breath away, but it's seeing the John was here planted confidently next to a piece composed of spirals and swirls that look like they're alive swimming on the concrete, and knowing that those two pieces are seeing the same thing. I'm here, I'm alive and, by virtue of being a human being, I will cree. My work might not last the week, but I am satisfied knowing I've contributed to this guest book. When you walk past the old aqueduct, you don't think much of it. It's easy to overlook what feels like background noise, irrelevant architectural details of the city. But when you take a closer look, these spaces show themselves to be so much more. He's forgotten places are often even a new life, take on new histories and perhaps aren't so abandoned after all. Here you are is a podcast...

...created by students at the University of Rochester. This episode was produced by Hayley Higgins, Stella Wilkins and Jason Lee, with engineering by Jason Lee. The music used for this episode was performed and published by blue dog sessions. Here you are is created using faders, a collaborative online audio production workstation. It offers browser based audio recording and editing, all within an easy to use interface, all for free. Check it out at Fader's Dio. We like to thank will Cleveland and Quadry Donel for their interviews. The coordinating producer, for this season of here you are. This Celia Knelt and the executive producers are Thomas Fleischman and Steven Resner. Be sure to check out other episodes of here you are season four. Rochester retold that here you arecom.

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