Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Reaching me in my Retreat

I will be spending the month of August (1st-28th) at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.

Here's how to reach me there:

Mail: 154 San Angelo Drive, Amherst, VA 24521

I will chack my email and cell phone messages throughout the day: 646-244-0879.

I'll be back in New York on September 1.

Countrymouse can hardly wait to share his impressions and observations. Citymouse will probably be hiding under a bed, afraid of the sound of crickets...

Monday, July 21, 2008

There Goes the Neighborhood

Real Estate speculation has reached an obscene level that is effectively destroying the fabric of New York. This very fine parody, created by
Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese was part of EyeWash's excellent Artwalking show on Bedford Avenue.

Pat McGeehan's piece in yesterday's New York Times should be required reading for anyone who wants to live in, visit, or even discuss Williamsburg.

He describes the plight of the Brooklyn Brewery, which in many ways is the very heart of the Williamsburg renaissance, yet has found it basically impossible to locate a space in the borough that will allow it to expand or--perhaps--even continue it's operations. It's not because the increasingly wealthy neighbors don't want a brewery next door. On the contrary, it's universally loved. The problem is that light manufacturing has been zoned out of much of the neighborhood and those spaces that remain are being held vacant in the hopes of getting a coveted variance to build luxury condos. I won't rehash the story: you should read it yourself.

McGeehan rightly points out that the plight of small manufacturers is not limited to craft brewers. Because he's writing about business, though, he completely misses the cultural angle, which is very dear to me, and which is at least as deeply troubling.

The brewery certainly was a pioneer in the neighborhood, in a relative sense. Even before their arrival, artists were here converting early-to-mid-century industrial spaces into studios. We all know that artists are being priced out of the neighborhood and have been for some time. It's even worse than that however. When you think about light industrial production, it pretty well matches what an artist does. So the vision of a Brooklyn without light manufacturing is one that does not include artists. Very sobering to think of oneself as completely anathema (as opposed to simply foreign) to the real estate barons that control the city.

So every time I celebrate a nice cafe opening across the street, I also hear my own clock ticking. It's a simple fact of an artist's life that one must constantly relocate ahead of gentrification's tidal wave. What's happening now though is fundamentally different: this is not artists decamping from a building or even a neighborhood. This is an entire city slowly evicting its cultural class.

That is why I stopped fighting for the loft law. Normalizing the inhabitation of industrial land has had the perverse effect of opening a door through which to usher artists out of the neighborhood. So in leading the charge for more housing in North Brooklyn, the arts community has effectively written its own ticket out of here. Beware the law of unintended consequences...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Forest of Dreams

When night falls and the lights turn on, the familiar becomes somehow alien and interesting. Light effects are dramatically different and a strange parallel world, rich in metaphorical possibilities, awakens.

From a strictly visual standpoint, objects (like building facades) that are typically bathed in ambient sunlight are lit from below—to dramatic effect. It’s like stage lighting or the spooky camp counselor telling ghost stories with a flashlight.

A good number of my early drawings from Washington and Europe are of churches and other buildings with dramatic, night-time lighting. When I arrived in New York, I embarked on a series of nocturnal photographs, The City that Never Sleeps, which chronicles the strange and wonderful nocturnal life that is uniquely New York. That project is open-ended and I’ve never really stopped.

Now I think the time has arrived to marry my longstanding interests in nocturnal drawing and photography with my favorite subject matter: trees and forests. I recently visited McCarren Park to gather images for a new series of tree drawings that are nocturnal; I had one specific piece in mind. I found the source material that I needed—and a lot more. My photographs of trees are generally just intermediate steps for me, but these pictures have potential to be works of art themselves.

Maybe I should do just that: a series of nocturnal tree portraits that are photographs—a slightly new but very interesting direction. The subject of the nocturnal grove is as old as storytelling itself and the images are visually powerful in themselves. This is a potent combination worth developing further. Let’s see where it takes me...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Midsummer Night McCarren

One arts advocate argued in a Greenline article that the concerts and movies are not a "Hipster thing." The preponderance of brakeless bikes would indicate otherwise, as would the total absence of Latinos or anyone over the age of 45. Not the case at the City's other outdoor movie sites.

The other night I headed over to McCarren Park to photograph trees for my next set of Nocturnal drawings. The combination of street and stadium lights results in visual effects that are strange and stunning. More on that in a future entry. For now, I would like to describe something else I found there.

People! The park was crowded like a weekend afternoon. The newly installed lights on the track have already had a dramatic impact on park usage in their first year. Late into the night, the track and infield were actually crowded—something that could never be said of summer evenings of yore.

If there were hundreds of people on and around the track, there were thousands next door at the Tuesday evening film at the McCarren Park Pool. It was an amazing scene, already eclipsing more established venues, like Bryant Park or Brooklyn Bridge, on its opening night. That huge pool was packed with people so that the enormous screen looked downright tiny.

That space is so enormous though, there was plenty of room for other stuff: several tents selling beer, tacos, ice cream, coffee, and other treats. Plenty of tables and lots of space and cool little corners for hanging out. I arrived late and didn’t care about the movie, but I had plenty of company in that regard. I just chilled out with a beer, chatted with strangers, and took in one of the nicest and coolest scenes I’ve experienced in quite a while. It’s free, casual, a great place to gather with friends.

Now I understand the loyalty that surrounds the weekend concert series. The Pool is one of the finest outdoor venues I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I’m starting to get the sense that this loyal constituency may become an obstacle to the facility’s impending restoration back into a pool. I’ve seen a number of quotes of late, attributed to various "arts advocates" decrying the renovation as some kind of blow to the local arts scene. That may be true in the strictest sense but the temporary stage and movie screen could be erected in any open space, while this is the North Brooklyn’s only shot for an outdoor pool. Who’s to say that the new Bushwick Inlet Park with its unmatched view of the Manhattan skyline would not be equally sublime?

It should be noted that the majority of the concert and movie goers come from outside the neighborhood and of the dozens of people I spoke to on Tuesday night, only a few lived in Williamsburg and none had been here for more than a year or two. Should our children be forego this needed resource in order to serve a hungry Manhattanites’ insatiable need for open space? They’ll be welcome to use the pool, and hopefully see their concerts and movies in some other location as well.

Put this long-time arts advocate and community organizer squarely in favor of the pool. It’s the best, most needed, and most appropriate use for the space. That should be obvious but in this community which is so much better at protesting than building, one can never be sure. I love the movies and plan to go back. But the pool will be an equally amazing place, and I would hate to see the arts consituency join in the petty intra-community squabbles that have doomed the renovation numerous times in the past. Let’s enjoy the movies and concerts for one last summer and then move forward.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Citymouse Take on the Rabbit Hole

Antique fixtures and rustic furniture give the place an Old World feeling. Or old New World.

A few months ago, we reported that the Read was relocating to the Southside--right across the street from our apartment! It's open, reincarnated as the Rabbit Hole, and Citymouse crawls over there on a regular basis for some serious blogging.

As anticipated, the food's exactly the same as before--which is very good. The ambiance is even nicer. The back yard just as cool. The interior feels more alot more French Rustic than the old place and we like it better. When asked what happened to the trademark free books and magazines, owner Lawrence Elliot explained that people actually used to [intentionally] put sticky things (some of biological origin) between the pages and he was fed up. So he rightly got rid of them.

Citymouse has only one complaint: we shall have to wait for our favorite Read combination (fresh Chocolate raspberry rolled scone paired with a cold brew) until they get their liquor licence. Then perhaps it will be the perfect cafe.

The advent of the Rabbit Hole makes a difficult dilemma all the more vexing: should we go to Simple or the Tea Room or the Lucky Cat or Blackbird or now this?

Such is the difficult life of the Williamsburg Citymouse...

No other reviews available yet; previews: Gothamist Gowanus Lounge

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Island of Metaphors

By locating the festival on an island, visitors are forced to take a little journey to get there--

opening the visitor to metaphor and really enhancing the cultural experience there.

I like the Figment Festival! It sort of brings some of the best things about Burning Man to New York, and some of the annoying things as well. Let’s be real though: a trip to Governor’s Island is no substitute for a week on the playa. Still, it’s a great event and I would like to get involved next year.

Like Burning Man, there are alot of artists just "putting it out there" without really worrying about the commercial implications. There are many artists who just wheeled their huge sculptures out into a big feild and hung out with it. The artist are right there and I had many, many conversations with them. The overarching commercialism of gallery art sucks alot of the joy out of a trip to Chelsea and this was quite different and refreshing.

The Figment folks have done well by borrowing some of Burning Man’s non-commercial agenda, though one can still easily find a hotdog or soda for sale. On reflection it's kind of sad that the hotdog sellers are allowed to make a living but the artists have to donate everything. Maybe the hot dogs should be donated and the art sold?

Besides all the free-placed art, there are two curated group shows of sculpture and installations located inside buildings and the quality of those shows was (is) outstanding. Unlike the rest of the event, these two shows remain on view through the summer. Information on them can be found here and here. There was alot of music, theatre, dance, people in costume, and general wackiness.

My only complaint was this: Because the event is spread over a vast area, and the only way to have a physical map/schedule is to download one from their web site (it doesn’t print well at all) and they don't offer them on site. The only real practical ways to find things are either by being one of the organizers (and here, Burning Man’s annoying elitism rears it’s bespectacled face) or by wandering around, happening onto things and not caring too much about what you might be missing. The greeters had one map among them all and they didn’t really have much to offer besides pointing everyone in the general direction of the mini-golf. Although I love vibe-surfing more than most, there were times during the visit when it would have been nice to know where I was, what’s out there and when. The art-trance approach works better on the playa than in it does in wired New York.

I think the whole looming presense of Burning Man is a sort of liability. All of the organizers and participants that I spoke to also do Burning Man and view I got the vibe that they view this event (consciously or not) as a little (and lesser) sister to the Nevada event. That approach will prevent the Figment from reaching it's potential for two important reasons. First it builds an inferiority complex into the very grain of the event's existence. Secondly, it tends to ape the big sister in ways that are not always appropriate. Burning Man, though wonderful, is not the perfect consummation of anything and what works on the playa's very particular environment may not be best in New York Harbor.

On the whole though, it was a really great experience and I’m very glad I went. I look forward to next year!