To be a cultural center for innovation and creativity through contemporary art.


Rochester Art Center offers the opportunity for all people to understand and value the arts through innovative experiences with contemporary art. Through world-class exhibitions and programs, we present a welcoming, integrated, and diverse experience that encourages questioning, creativity, and critical thinking. These exhibitions and programs are designed to reflect the dynamic relationship between art and society. They educate, challenge, and connect individuals to our world in compelling new ways. We are committed to being a cultural center in our community and to enhancing our region as a destination for creativity and innovation. We provide value through engagement with broad communities, strong collaborations with other organizations, and a history of excellence.

Newton Holland 1936


Rochester Art Center began in 1946 as a dream of its first board president Newton Holland. Seventy years later, Rochester Art Center continues to offer patrons the opportunity to know, practice and enjoy the arts. The founding board members wanted “to join with the schools, the churches, the library and other community groups to make Rochester a cultural center worthy of its scientific achievement,” as stated in Art Center’s original mission statement.

RochesterArtCenter1947  Art Center OLD

Its first humble home began in the unused upstairs rooms of the Rochester public library building, moving in 1948 to a small abandoned church on the corner of West Center Street and Third Avenue Northwest. Holland, Dr. Hiram Essex and other art patrons led a fund drive that enabled the purchase of the church and lease of the lot on which it stood. Their fund drive provided the monies to build a balcony, loft, furnace and toilet. Their first exhibition: Everyday Art for Everybody, held April, 1948 featured a display of well-designed, useful articles for the home.

However, the RAC board realized by the mid-1950’s that the little church was too small to accommodate all the art center’s many activities, including classes, exhibitions, lectures, demonstrations, meetings, and even the first rehearsals and founding meeting of the Rochester Civic Theatre.


The board of directors requested public land in Mayo Park from the City of Rochester and the City Council granted their request. On November 15, 1956, the Rochester Art Center leased land along the Zumbro River for 50 years for the sum of one dollar per year. The groundbreaking ceremony occurred on September 1, 1957, followed by a fund drive to build a new art center. The new building opened March 23, 1958.

During the 1950’s, Rochester Art Center included exhibitions that featured local, regional, national and international art, such as the 1959 touring exhibition of Israeli Art, traveling under the auspices of Jerusalem Art Center in New York. Through the years, Rochester Art Center continued to feature the varied work of many artists from different ethnic backgrounds, including exhibits of Hispanic, Asian, and African American artists. One of the Art Center’s major exhibitions was a bead working exhibition Pure Vision: American Bead Artists in 1994. It was the first exhibition that traveled to other major art centers across the nation, giving Rochester Art Center a national presence for the first time.

In the late 1990s, the expansion of the Mayo Civic Center severely decreased access to the Art Center, making it imperative to move. The Board of Directors launched a Capital Campaign in 1999, which reached the goal of $8.2 million in 2003. Rochester Art Center moved into its current 36,000 square-foot facility in spring of 2004.



Opened in 2004, the 36,000 square-foot Rochester Art Center expresses itself as two architectural forms, one covered in copper and the other zinc-covered, linked by a glass atrium that frames views west to downtown Rochester and east to the river corridor. The south side of the building is encased in zinc and houses the galleries and classroom studios. The building’s copper-covered north tower, which ties the Art Center to the Mayo Civic Center, provides basic service functions, such as stairs and elevators and other building support functions. The copper tower also serves as the structural anchor for the east end of the building, allowing it to cantilever over the city’s bike path and extend out over the river.

Visitors enter the Art Center on the first level and transition into the soaring, three-story Wells Fargo Atrium and Mayo Clinic Grand Lobby. The stunning introduction to the building allows visitors to relate with the Zumbro River, Mayo Park and downtown Rochester. The interiors are designed with white walls, polished concrete floors and glass windows. A dramatic suspended atrium stairway provides access to the second and third floors.

Simple and clean, the design works together with nature – linking the indoors to the outside, creating an environment that glows with light from the interplay of sun on the glass and natural metals used throughout. As the sun sets, the building’s copper and zinc panels reflect the sun’s subtle colors and create a shimmering complement to the river below.

Our thanks to Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA) architectural firm and Kara Hill, lead Project Designer, for their vision, talent and enthusiasm and support of the project. Kara approached the design as a piece of sculpture, while keeping in mind the Art Center’s current and future program needs. A special thank you also to Market & Johnson for helping make the dream of the new art center become a reality.