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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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.

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