Ascending the stairs during the Memorial Art Gallery’s event Friday night, you might have noticed an odd juxtaposition between the DJ’s beats being left behind and the sound of harps and soft conversation replacing them ahead.
“Valentine’s Schmalentine’s,” the MAG’S anti-Valentine event included music by DJ ALYKHAN, samples from Hedonist Artisan Chocolates, music upstairs by Roxanne Ziegler and her Melody of harpists, a 10 cent storyteller, and a scavenger hunt throughout the gallery with giveaways for winners provided by the Little Theatre, Urban Decay Cosmetics, Salena’s Mexican Restaurant, and Nox.
“We are proudly serving Rochester’s reasonably attractive lovers of art,” MAG Director Jonathan Bimstock said. “And we have been doing so since 2013.”
The downstairs acted as dance floor and bar area. Inside the gallery, guests were welcome to admire the art, complete the heart themed scavenger hunt, or to play board games like “Clue” that had been placed on benches.
In addition, MAG provided a themed “compassionate listener” in different wings in the gallery.
“I believe in giving a person that shoulder to cry on and that ear to listen to,” listener Tina Star said. “I should have been a therapist in another life, but instead I went into art.”
Star is also a photographer, visual artist, and performance artist. She and the rest of the compassionate listeners were drawn to the position through their desire to help others.
“[My friend] thought it would be a great idea for me to get out of a different scene as a drag mother, drag persona,” listener Vivian Darling said. “I have a lot of people asking me for advice and things, so just to expand upon that, just, you know, sit around, listen. I like to make light of sometimes bad situations; I think everyone needs a good dose of laughter. If you can bring a little levity to a compassionate situation I think that’s a very strong ability.”
Darling was dressed in a queen’s ball gown, complete with a corseted waist, and dramatic turquoise makeup to go with the blank gallery she was stationed in.
Upstairs in the Welt Gallery, compassionate listener Derrick Grant wore a red, see-through shirt made by designer friend Benji Zhen Wang Wong to embrace his character “Mr. Transparent.”
Grant works in the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility for Immigration Customs Enforcement.
“In prison, it’s not like ‘Orange is the New Black,’” Grant said. “Being a translator, you’re listening and interpreting […] I’ve developed a very long fuse in prison. In prison, you want to defuse a situation, you don’t want to inflate it or beat anyone. You want to do whatever it takes to lessen the heart-rate, not increase the heart-rate. So I have a long fuse, I enjoy listening.”
Also present was Karl J. P. Smith, who provided his services as a 10-cent storyteller. His typewriter was set up in in the Watson Foyer, and a line gathered to give him a prompt and then wait a few minutes while he wrote a story for them.
“I get a lot of requests for heartbreak or meet-cute stories,” Smith said.
Smith has been a 10-cent storyteller for more than 3 years. He can be found with his typewriter at various locales in Rochester, such as its museums, the pier, or the farmer’s market, practicing his trade.
Star noted that she moved to Rochester from the Midwest and enjoys the opportunity to work at places like the MAG to spread her beliefs about true compassion.
“My goal in general is to always be cognitive and aware of what people are telling you,” she said. “Like people listen, but they don’t really listen, it goes in one ear, out the other. And what people truly need in this life is a best friend, somebody who is going to remember to what they say […] Something as simple as that.”