The Rochester community as classroom

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Photo provided of RIT Archive Collections

Rochester Insight exhibition, 1973

In the 1970s, RIT graphic design Professor R. Roger Remington and his colleagues undertook several projects that took Department of Communication students out into the community to participate in some unique projects. 

RIT graduate students created an exhibit called Rochester Insight at the Rochester Museum and Science Center that showcased the results of a study of the Rochester central business district. The students wanted to reveal the nature of the core of the city, to make it more comprehensible, by bringing together and juxtaposing the past and the present and posing a potential future through revitalization. Focusing on people, places and processes, and using vintage photographs, documentation from the present and models of the future, the exhibit organized life in a city into 12 basic areas of human need. 

A separate multimedia program that juxtaposed comments from city dwellers from all walks of life and photographs to convey ideas about education, business, natural resources and community services immersed visitors in an auditory and visual experience. Both the layered presentation and circular exhibit were to symbolize the interdependence of all elements of the city and “stimulate new insights and new perspectives” toward changing attitudes about the value of the city. 

Another project was related to an organization called the “urbanarium.” The urbanarium was billed as “a concept in education, community development and interaction” for the benefit of the greater Rochester area. RIT President Paul Miller, one of the drivers of the project, saw it as a way for educational institutions to extend traditional teaching and create a “new kind of classroom for citizen education” where students would be exposed to every aspect of the community through direct involvement with that community. The energy and skills of people inside and outside the educational institutions would be harnessed to focus on solving social and economic problems and improving the quality of life in Rochester. 

One of the first programs of the urbanarium was A Design for a Greater Rochester Community Seminar. The seminar was modeled on the Federal Design Improvement Program undertaken by the National Endowment for the Arts in response to a need for better design and visual communication at the federal level. As part of the project, four design assemblies took the conversation to four regions nationally. Rochester was just one of two metropolitan areas that took part in the project and the seminar became part of the urbanarium programming. Remington headed the assembly’s planning committee and the focus of the program was the same as the federal program—to improve government design and communication, this time locally. 

Shortly after this project, students and faculty participated in the City Design Project. This project gave students the opportunity to design for various organizations and companies. Timely topics, work with the community, and exposure to ideas percolating at a national level energized these design students.