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Erich Lehman

On a Thursday at The King & I

Interview No. 93

1 - Intro1 - Intro

Where are you originally from?

I’m from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I came to RIT for school in 1993. After I graduated, I lived in South Carolina for a year, then came back for grad school. Then I just forgot to leave. I had a lot of friends here and was just hanging out and having fun. I took a summer job at RIT and stayed for 19 years.

Tell me a little bit about your day job and your many side projects.

I’m a tech nerd by day—basically a System Administrator. I live as a bridge, doing applied IT and managing workflow. It’s technically “Media Sciences,” but I’m basically getting content where it needs to go. All of my friends are artists; I fell in love with graphics as a kid working at a skate shop. I understand both creatives and tech guys, and what they each need, and I help facilitate.

In terms of side projects, I ran my gallery, 1975, for seven years. I’ve also done pop-up shops. I’m on the board of Roc City Skate Park and have been a part of that effort since 2010. The city just brought on a grant writer to try to move the project forward, so that’s exciting. I guest curate shows, like Hoarders of Cool, which was at the Art Museum of Rochester last year, and one with Bones this year. I make stuff and do some freelance graphic design work. I was also part of the Sweet Meat Collective. I have a tattoo of a candle burning at both ends, and that’s a pretty good representation of an unfortunate trait of mine. I’m trying to get better about not doing that.

What is your favorite part of living in Rochester?

The potential. The opportunity. We talk about it a lot with WALL\THERAPY. Everyone in our original core crew, except for one person, was from outside of Rochester. People who are originally from here often don’t see the potential as much. Meanwhile, we’re like, “Are you kidding? There’s so much we can pull off here!”

By living here, I can have more of an impact. Especially given the low cost of living. Rust belt cities are often looked down on, but that’s where you should do cool shit. If you put the work in, you can accomplish so much. You’re not a small fish in a big pond; what we do matters here.

Artists love it here too—everyone we bring in for WALL\THERAPY wants to come back! It’s wild here. They’ll hear about stuff like lake surfing and ask, “What’s wrong with you guys?” and we answer, “A lot, but it’s great.” We’re just folks. That’s been WALL\THERAPY’S motto for a long time. Anyone can come talk to us. We care. We give a shit.

What we’re trying to do with WALL\THERAPY is change the community; we know we’re not gonna change the world. And yet, we’ve wound up representing Rochester on a global scale. We were one of the first street art festivals in the U.S., and we’ve become highly regarded for treating artists and people really well. Martha Cooper even went so far as to tell us that we’re the best in the world!

What are some of your favorite/secret Rochester spots?

The subway, of course, is such a unique feature. No other city has something like that. I also enjoy visiting the jetty by Seabreeze. Tryon Park is a favorite too, I love snowboarding there in the winter. Another favorite winter activity is danger sledding at Cobbs Hill. We create some huge jumps and it’s awesome.

What’s your favorite Rochester memory?

The first time I went lake surfing in December 2010. It was like swimming in a slushie. I paddled out on my first surfboard of my own, and caught the first wave when I got out there. My friend Trevor was next to me, and it was totally silent. It was 7:30am on a weekday and snow was falling. It was so insanely beautiful. I knew that so few people would ever feel or experience this moment. You just have to have the moment, take it, and tell the story.

Do you have a favorite charity/nonprofit you like to support?

My friend’s nonprofit, The World is Fun, is one of my favorites. It aims to get 20-somethings engaged in the community. I always like to support my friends’ projects—after all, their support helped get my gallery built.

If you had $100 and 2 hours to kill in Rochester, how would you spend the money/time?

I’d go play at Bartertown! I’d just go on a shopping spree. It’s located over by Apogee on Park Ave.

What do you think could be improved about Rochester?

I’d like to see more people take a more active role in improving our city. There’s a small group trying to improve it and others who are apathetic. People tend to stay in silos or ruts around here. People have to get out of their silos and do more to improve our city. Take ownership!

If Rochester was an animal, what would it be?

A sloth. Cute and cuddly, and a bit slow to move. But I still adore it.

Tell me a little bit about how WALLTHERAPY got started and what your role in it is now.

WALLTHERAPY was originally started by Dr. Ian Wilson, and was called Visual Intervention. He brought in four artists from South Africa to paint murals all around Rochester as a way to give back to the city.

I met Ian in 2011 and got involved with WALLTHERAPY in 2013. I signed on to help with the website and branding, but I really just jumped right in. Now I’m the co-curator and lead organizer. This year, Ian and I curated the roster together. Our core crew refers to him as the dad and me as the cool uncle.

In all your years working on WALLTHERAPY, what’s been the most memorable experience?

I was walking by the Faith wall on Pleasant with Martha Cooper, and had a kind of out of body moment. I couldn’t believe it was happening, and felt at that moment that my life had just changed. The way I view my role in the city changed in that instant—I realized that I needed to be a champion for arts locally and for Rochester and it’s creative talent on a global scale.

What do Rochesterians have to look forward to with WALLTHERAPY 2017?

We’ve been thinking, how can we do more? So we’re going deep this year—we’re giving voice to underserved communities who you don’t usually see represented in major mural festivals. I have an ability to help elevate other voices, to open the doors and provide support, so I might as well do it.

How can people get involved with WALLTHERAPY?

Head over to our website and click on Donate/Volunteer.

Erich Lehman is a self-proclaimed tech nerd by day, and Rochester arts champion by night. For more of Erich's perspectives, check out our Instagram.