Lorene Benson established Cobblestone Arts Center in 1983 for all ages and abilities to bring the arts to the community and surrounding areas.
Forty artists and teachers taught classes in cooking, foreign language, dance, music and visual arts in an historic cobblestone house in Victor across from Eastview Mall. The enterprise was made possible with fundraising, grants and the help of her family.
Wheels in Motion, a dance company featuring individuals in wheelchairs and able-bodied dancers, formed in 1986. Benson, a former dancer with Rochester’s Mercury Ballet, wanted to create the opportunity for this population to be included in performance experiences not available traditionally. Through community performances, Benson felt the public’s perception of disabled persons could be changed.
Soon after, Benson established Celebrating the Arts, an arts-based day program for individuals with disabilities that included visual arts, music, dance and theater as a vehicle to bring about acceptance.
This Medicaid-waivered day program has existed for 30 years, starting with just a handful of individuals to almost 90 this year. Individuals with a range of disabilities attend the program year-round and live in the five-county Greater Rochester region.
Over the years, Benson was recognized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, National Council of Jewish Women, Rotary International, New York State Assembly, Farmington Chamber of Commerce and Farmington-Victor Kiwanis Club for her dedication to the arts and individuals with disabilities.
As the program grew, so did the need for additional space. The move to Farmington to another historic building in 1995 provided the opportunity to expand with the addition of a dance studio, then later a music room and art room. Along with expanding the day program, Benson continued to provide dance classes for children and adults through her personal business, Best Foot Forward, which was established in the 1970s and now is located at Cobblestone Court. The establishment of Celebration of Youth, a collaborative summer arts program for youth from culturally and socially diverse backgrounds, was developed. This initiative allows the opportunity for students to grow in a creative environment and promote appreciation of diversity.
With Cobblestone’s growing need for a performance venue, a 150-seat theater was constructed in 2017 for day program students and community artists to present their work. One year after opening, Cobblestone Theater presented at least 70 live performances of music, theater and dance.
The underlying thread in all of these programs is building a stronger community through the arts that includes all individuals, especially the disenfranchised. The result is a community that embraces the diversity of all its members where creativity levels the playing field. Benson’s philosophy of life and teaching embraces the concept that everyone has so much in common, something to contribute and the arts can be the vehicle.
Call (585) 398-0220 or visit cobblestoneartscenter.com for information.