A milestone in Rochester’s art history

By Dan Holland

Nov. 15, 1946, is a significant day in the history of Rochester.

On that day, my father, Newton Holland, penned "the letter that took 50 years to write." That letter addressed to his "fellow citizens of Rochester," became the inspiration for and the foundation document of the Rochester Art Center. It also marked the beginning of Newt’s unstinting efforts to make Rochester, as he so often put it, "a cultural center worthy of its scientific achievements."

If you have not read that foundation document, I encourage you to do so. It urges us all to consecrate our lives to beauty that all may benefit.

It seems impossible that the Rochester Arts Center is now 60 years old, that it has undergone four stages in its metamorphosis — from the cramped quarters in the top floor of the old Rochester Public Library, to the poorly-heated little church on West Center Street, to the lovely facility that adorned the banks of the Zumbro River for so many years, to the spacious new addition to the Mayo Civic Center.


If Nov. 15, 1946, is important to the history of Rochester, it is also important to the history of art in America. For the Rochester Art Center became the first "small town art center in America," and thereby became a milestone in the history of grassroots art in America.

If anyone ever writes a history of grassroots art in America, Chapter One will be Newt Holland and the Rochester Art Center! Newt Holland and countless other like-minded people, did what many thought impossible: They brought art into the easy reach of everyone in a town of only 15,000 people.

I remember my father receiving a letter from Robert Maynard Hutchins, then Chancellor of the University of Chicago, commending him on his important contribution to art in America. As you read this, take pride in what Rochester has become — not just scientifically, but also culturally.

What I do not comprehend is why the Rochester Art Center has not held its usual annual meeting in November to commemorate such an important event in its long and storied history.

Dan Holland is a Rochester native who now lives in Plover, Wis.

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