ROTA Art Gallery

Emerging artists strive to expand the local art community

Story and photos by Jaime Thomas

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Jewelry is just one kind of art at ROTA.

Locals in Plattsburgh, N.Y. have long been feeling deprived. They search in vain for a place with live music or an art gallery. Desperate for somewhere to go on weekend nights that doesn’t include the downtown bar scene, they’re better off staying home.

Today, they need not look further—now, there’s ROTA.

The word rota means different things in various languages. In its use as the title for a new art gallery and studio on Clinton Street in downtown Plattsburgh, the Latin translation—wheels—is probably most appropriate. While there has been an eclectic mix of people involved in its start-up, ROTA still strives to keep things moving.

“We’re trying to further contemporary art in Plattsburgh,” says artist and co-founder Kaitlyn Donovan. She says the idea has been kicking around for awhile among a large group of young artists and musicians.

Tavish Costello, a co-founder and artist, agrees. “A lot of people liked the idea, but they weren’t going for it.”

So, Costello, Donovan, and a handful of others finally got the ball rolling. Costello had been casually keeping an eye out for available spaces for awhile. However, it was not until the perfect opportunity arose that he gathered money, with the help of several friends, and rented out the space in January.

Since then, a host of artists and volunteers have been steadily renovating the three-room space, and have held several donation-only concerts to bring in more funds.

“We’re trying to further contemporary art in Plattsburgh.”

Matt Hall plays in two bands, Long Cat and Marco Polio, and does sketches and collages as well. He has been a big player in the start-up of ROTA, doing everything from organizing events, to cleaning out the basement, to putting on shows. He says it is a great community art space, the only one where artists can sometimes display work for free.

Walking down the street, you would pass by ROTA without a second glance. Inside, a bare room is enclosed by art-covered walls, similar to a typical gallery, but more inviting. There is no charge, and visitors are welcome to browse up-close at their own pace, and to chat with any of the featured artists who may be volunteering or working at the studio.

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ROTA is a place where music and art come together.

The space is currently being used as a gallery, with additional room for use as a painting studio. The founders plan on expanding ROTA’s use as an art studio, hoping to have a rotating dark room and sculpture area set up in the next two months. Artists will be able to pay to use the studio space, the gallery, or both.

“We want to involve all forms of art.”

On weekend nights, ROTA transforms into an unusual, yet interesting concert venue. Several shows have already taken place at the establishment. Costello says they invite underground bands who might not be accepted elsewhere to play. Between sets, the crowd can browse the diverse gallery, which houses everything from photography, to paintings, to sculptures. Bands can also pay to use the space for practicing.

“We want to involve all forms of art,” Donovan says. Rather than competing with other similar organizations in the area, the group wants to work with them to promote a larger local art community.

ROTA is totally independent, Hall says, and therefore runs on contributions and help from a large volunteer network. Because of its independence, the gallery takes only 15 percent commission from artists selling work, a number significantly lower than the average.

“This is aimed at helping artists promote and make money off of their work.”

The people behind this idea are not in it for business. “This is aimed at helping artists promote and make money off of their work,” Hall says.

What makes ROTA unique is that it fills a big void in Plattsburgh—that is, a nightspot that isn’t a bar. “There’s no nightlife downtown that isn’t centered around alcohol,” Hall says. “At ROTA, we want to give people an alternative.”

What would you do to enhance the local arts and music scene?

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