On his way to Rochester last November, artist Kurt Perschke wasn’t sure what to expect. He was coming to town to scout possible sites for his RedBall Project, which he had previously installed primarily in major metropolises: Barcelona, London, Paris.
“I had no idea of Rochester,” Perschke said last week by phone from New York City. “I didn’t know what I was flying into until I got there.”
Perschke might not have been on that plane at all if it hadn’t been for Shannon Fitzgerald, executive director of the Rochester Art Center. “To be honest, it really had to do with Shannon,” Perschke said. “I knew her, we’ve worked together.”
That was in St. Louis, more than a decade ago, where Perschke launched his RedBall Project and Fitzgerald was curator at the Contemporary Art Museum. Here in Rochester, Fitzgerald was part of a Rochester Downtown Alliance committee to launch a public art project. When the idea of bringing Perschke’s RedBall Project came up, she got on the phone.
“I was honest with him,” Fitzgerald said. She explained to Perschke that, while Rochester is no Paris or London, it’s also not your typical Midwestern medium-size city. “He was receptive,” she said. “He has been mostly doing this in Europe, and he was interested in getting back to America, a smaller city.”
So last November, Perschke hopped on that plane to Rochester, and spent 10 days in the city, sketching locales, soaking up the culture, and selecting sites for his red ball.
“For me, the exciting thing was the density downtown, the walkability of it,” Perschke said. “I’ve found that the experience of working in a community that scales smaller works really well for the piece.”
He realized right off the bat, of course, that much of downtown Rochester is given over to Mayo Clinic buildings. He was also initially puzzled by how to honor a request to incorporate the Zumbro River, which runs through downtown, into the project.
“I had just gotten in, I only knew my hotel, and the first thing I did was go looking for the river,” Perschke recalled. “Then I found it. It’s cemented off and nearly every building has its back to it. So, by going there, do I pull people to it, or do I disappear?”
In the end, Perschke came up with seven sites, where the red ball will be paced, one each day, from June 6 through June 12. Most are downtown, two are on the Mayo campus, and one is near the burgeoning arts strip on Sixth Avenue Northwest.
“Some of them surprised me, but these are totally his impressions,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a fresh, outsider’s perspective.”
Now it remains to be seen what the local reaction to RedBall Project will be.
“In Rochester, it will change from site to site, day to day,” Perschke said. “We build an audience organically as much as anything. To me it’s a really fascinating thing that happens in every city. ”
“You can touch it, bounce off of it,” Fitzgerald said of the red ball. “I hope it prompts some musicians to play near it. There might be some pop-up plays.”
“It all depends on the audience,” Perschke said. “How it plays out everywhere is different.”
Whatever the reaction, hosting RedBall Project says something about Rochester.
“I hope it says we are interested, we’re open, we’re a curious community,” Fitzgerald said.