JoAnn Beck of the Rochester Olmsted Parks Alliance with students on the proposed warehouse location in Genesee Valley Park, Rochester, NY. From a Land Protector documentary film by Zitao ‘Dylan’ Liu.

In the City of Rochester, NY, the Genesee Valley Park spreads out along the banks of both the Genesee River and the Erie Canal. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1890. Along with being a beloved public resource, many in the community recognize the landscape as a work of art. 

Though most of the park is publicly owned by the city, a stretch of woodland on the periphery belongs to the University of Rochester. In 2022, the school’s proposal to clear more than an acre and a half of forest to build a warehouse and parking lot on the property raised alarms. The mature woodland acts as a buffer between park visitors and the outside world, and its loss would impact the integrity of Olmsted’s design. The park was placed on the Preservation League of New York State’s (PLNYS) Seven to Save list.  

Thankfully, the city rejected the proposal, and the university has since reversed its decision. 

Vision by Land Protector artist, Sparsh Kumar. Image courtesy of

Still, to celebrate and draw community attention to the endangered places on their list, the PLNYS sought to work with artists to create creative interventions. For Genesee Valley Park, they thought it appropriate to turn to the university itself. With a Capacity & Regrowth grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, they invited Associate Professor of Art Heather Layton to design a multidisciplinary, student-led project. 

Collectively known as the Land Protectors, eleven students worked closely with the Rochester Olmsted Parks Alliance to create individual works. According to the Land Protectors’ statement, the group of students “represents a spectrum of disciplines across the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences. Using music, film, performance art, painting, installation, dance, craft, drawing and sound, these students not only highlight the environmental, spiritual, and cultural significance of green spaces but also evoke a deep appreciation for the value of free, accessible, park space for our local communities.” 

In February, the artworks were exhibited along with prints of the original Olmsted plans for Genesee Valley Park. The student collection will be archived as a “Portfolio of Evidence” and made available to future advocates should the need arise. 

Learn more from the PLNYS website.  

All images courtesy of