ROCHESTER. N.Y. (WROC) — If you didn’t know it was here, you’d never find it.
Inside this nondescript door on State Street, there’s a space for artists to thrive; UUU Art Collective. The space sells art, local drinks, snacks, and hosts concerts as well as community events. The unusual name comes from the umbrella on University Avenue, leading to the name “Under University’s Umbrella,” or UUU. But their umbrella is upside down; to signify their desire to support and gather, according to co-founder Zac Lijewski.
“This run of street is very representative of the culture of Rochester, of the diversity of Rochester, ” Lijewski said. “And because there’s so few people on this block, but we have the ability to set the tone.”
The mission of the gallery is simple:
“We’re extremely focused on artist production and the production of artists’ work,” Lijewski said. “From the studio, bringing it in, distributing it to an audience, and in a general sense, how can we make artists money so they can continue to produce. A good paintbrush is $17, $20. For a metalsmith, silver is expensive, gold is expensive, but you need these materials, these high-quality things to make more money, right? These are things you need to make your art look legitimate.”
Other galleries will often take a 50% or 60% commission on a piece sold. UUU also takes 35%. The gallery keeps their art as diverse as possible, but with a focus on up and coming contemporary artists, who might need help from a more business-oriented group. It took two years to gut the space, and completely renovate it, but from the ground up, the process has taken five years.
The kernel for UUU started when Lijewski and other Nazareth University students wanted to do something about the inequity of pay for musicians, and came to realize it’s even harder for visual artists. The business is mostly run by Lijewski, KC Sullivan, and Dylan Niver, with the other two alumni David Chan and Cody Naughyon working in New York City and helping out with the books, respectively. Rachel Spezio manages the bar. Their collective motivation?
“I was with my best friends doing it, ” Lijewski said. “I’m also helping my own career, I’m helping build my friends’ career, I’m here with Eastman students, I’m here with Nazareth students, RIT people, I’m seeing a community that’s slowly being built.”
More on why Lijewski and company started UUU:
The current artist UUU is showcasing is Ludavic Nkoth. He’s out of Harlem, and a native of Cameroon. He’s a painter and mixed media artist that shows snapshots from his memories — old and new — and moments in the lives of Cameroon.
“To have his work on the gallery walls, it totally changes the energy of the space,” Lijewski.
Now that the gallery is finally open, Lijewski has had a chance to reflect, and to look forward.
“I don’t want anymore artists leaving the city to go to New York, or LA, to Boston, to Chicago, so that they can find the bigger opportunity. I want that to be here,” Lijewski said. “As long as we have these huge schools and universities that are providing the the best training in the world for these fields, and the fact that we don’t have the resources in Rochester to contain them here, and to have them live success and sustainable lives, feels unacceptable to me. People say that this is what the city needs, and what they need as an artist too. How can you stop? It’s like the best feeling in the world. I’ve always wanted to live in Rochester, and I love this place, we all love this place, and to have our own spot and our own building in Rochester and our own little piece that’s ours — to create and share with people, it’s a great feeling.”