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The road to The Avenue

Reenah Golden brings theater, creativity, and love to Joseph Avenue

The Avenue Blackbox has been a special place since opening its doors in June 2018. Now celebrating its fifth season, “The Ave” is a safe and creative performing arts space focused on providing opportunities and experiences within performing and nonperforming career paths. In the last five years, it’s offered affordable and culturally rich experiences created by artists of color, youth, LGBTQ+, emerging BIPOC creatives, and cultural collaborators. 

“What I heard from the start and over the last five years from the community has been welcoming something, anything, that felt like it was positive and that was for us, by us,” says Reenah Golden, founder and executive artistic director. 

The Ave has become just that. And for Golden, being located on Joseph Avenue has been a bit of a homecoming. 

“I’m an East Side, West Side girl,” says Golden. “I’ve lived all over the city.” 

And one of the homes where she spent her formative years was on Laser Street, just four blocks away from The Ave. The building in the adjacent lot was once Marine Midland Bank where her father was the branch manager, and she recalls sitting under his desk coloring on Saturdays. 

“This was a coming home but coming home with a new understanding of ‘Wow this is a historic neighborhood,’” says Golden. “Specifically thinking of the 1960s and being a catalyst for the uprising in 1964.” 

As an adult she had a greater awareness of the significance of the neighborhood as a part of Rochester history, and through her previous work she recognized there was a huge disinvestment in the neighborhood and that included a disinvestment in art. She knew there were creatives in the community, and they deserved a space in their neighborhood, too. 

“The quadrant was an art desert,” says Golden. “As if art was such a luxury that not even a neighborhood like this could even afford it.”

With a desire to make the community better, she had long been focused on how to leverage the talents and passions of others to do so. After spending two years as a theater teacher of a program that she built from the ground up at a now-defunct charter school, Golden was at a crossroad in search of a home for that next chapter. This would be the nexus from which The Ave would form and led her to the building at 780 Joseph Avenue. The space sat vacant longer than it operated as a business when Golden arrived to meet the property owner. She recalls it being a pharmacy that was built brand new before becoming Dynamite Dollar. Golden negotiated a dollar lease under the agreement that she’d provide the sweat equity to convert the space and then rolled up her sleeves, called in some favors and friends, and went to work.

“I’m grateful for those that came out very early on and those that wrote us checks, many who became angel donors and supporters, too,” says Golden. 

There were also the neighborhood kids who were curious and wanted to help. Golden would incorporate their vision into the space, like the mural in the hallway, the chalk wall bathrooms, and more, including building programming around young people with The Avenue Teen Fellowship

“It was important for me to open up the space [to them] from the start,” says Golden. “Even when my architect came to present some of the drawings for the renovations, there were more kids than adults, but they had been here with me from the start.” 

The Ave has offered a range of community productions and programs with youth and emerging creatives at the center, from on-stage performers to behind-the-scenes providing concessions to production staff. The goal has always been to reduce barriers to experiencing art and culture in ways that change and impact lives for the better. At The Ave, it’s clear that theater is for everyone. 

Growing up, Golden says there were no theater programs that she found accessible, and if there were, she wasn’t aware. “I’m sure they had it when I attended Churchville-Chili, but I was just trying to survive out there,” says Golden. 

As an athlete, extracurricular meant running track as well as playing volleyball and basketball. So her road to The Ave and theater didn’t come through a traditional or educational path, but rather the performance of poetry led her to the stage. 

“I always wrote poetry, and at some point, I discovered I could perform it,” says Golden. “And in community I found that space.” 

In her twenties, with a small child entering school, she noticed a similar trend. There still weren’t arts programs or opportunities that she was aware of for young people to get involved at an early age. So she started to volunteer at her child’s school and from there became a teaching artist. 

“I quit my corporate job and started doing that full time,” says Golden. “I could be closer to the education process for my own child and create opportunities for those things I didn’t have growing up.” 

Golden would eventually find herself at the center of the stage, quite literally, when asked to perform No Child, written by Nilaja Sun, a solo show exploring the New York City public school system

Initially a group of friends wanted to bring the play to Rochester to highlight the importance of teaching artists and community and arts in education. After some back and forth, it wasn’t possible for Sun to come to perform it, so organizers asked Golden if she’d consider. 

“I was already down; I was already in,” Golden recalls.

While she had been a performing artist with experience in spoken word and monologues, this was different. This was a whole play and a one-woman show at that. She called a good friend in New York she trusted. If they said yes, she wanted them here to help pull it together as director. That friend knew Sun and said that the role was perfect for Golden. With that she said, “yes.” Suddenly, she was thrust into the world of professional theater. The undertaking of the show as a producing artist put Golden in the room and at the table during all the discussions and decisions. 

“I’m a Virgo, and I love getting in to see how things work,” says Golden. “And I was like, ‘Oh yes, I can do something with this.’” 

Golden would quickly discover that much of her passion lived in the creative process and seeing how magical it is putting all the pieces together. 

“I definitely fell in love,” says Golden. “I had been on stage for years, but once I entered into that world of theater—a place that I consider such sacred space— I thought to myself, this is definitely where I belong.”

Golden has been providing others with the opportunity to find their voice while expressing themselves creatively ever since. With several artist contractors and volunteers supporting her along the way, Golden has remained the only full-time employee over the last five years at The Ave, and her team of collaborators, mentors, and contributors has been critical to the mission and executing the vision. 

Ultimately, The Ave continues to work to transform the neighborhood into a community-centric arts corridor that is dynamic and socially impactful. Through a sustainable partnership with the Joseph Avenue neighborhood and the larger community, Golden and her team plan to continue this work. 

“That was my path,” says Golden. “It was a little winding road, but it was based on seeing there was a void to the things that gave light, and art is one of those things.” 

The last five years have been just the beginning, and The Ave looks to grow into the next five years and beyond while celebrating its accomplishments and building for the future. 

“I wanted to give what little Reenah would have wanted,” says Golden. 

For more information on upcoming programming, visit or follow on Instagram @avenueblackbox.

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