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, March 27, 2009

China: We like your tower but not your "Freedom."
NYC: Consider it gone!

The Port Authority has finally signed its first tenant for the 102-story tower to be built at One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower. A Chinese real estate interest has agreed to take five floors with a stunning caveat: they get to veto the name. Granted, there is no official quid pro quo, but the fact that the two developments (both of which have been in the works for almost a year) were announced in the same release unmistakably links the two phenomena.

So, just as the Chinese Government blocks its citizens from reading dissident (or even many mainstream) web sites, so they're able to censor the terminology used on the sacred 9/11 site. Not good.

It's all the more disturbing on the heels of Chinese grumblings about US monetary policy, the dollar as international reserve currency, and stimulus rules about foreign steel (which is standard practice world-wide for government construction projects.)

China is unmistakably starting to flex its economic muscles as well they should (from their perspective). I don't begrudge that nor am I overfond of the Freedom nomicker. After all the F word has indelible associations with the Bushies and has been used too often as a bludgeon against our overseas cousins. I can see why they or any entity would want to rid the tower of Pataki's unfortunate choice of names.

I am very disturbed though about what it says about us. First of all, the PA sold our freedom on a symbolic level for a less than 5% rental stake. How much would actual freedom cost? 40%?

More disturbing is the message about real estate. Eight years after 9/11, this behemoth office tower has exactly one tenant. Maybe it shouldn't be built? The thought of a hundred+ story darkened lighthouse keeping watch over the city is very grim indeed. Would it mean New York is officially done?

On the bright side, real estate gluts are good for artists but what tends to happen here in hard times is that you overpay AND have broken-window blight next door.

I do no wish to be a downer on a gorgeous Spring day but if that vertical shaft is a thermometer, today's reading looks rather chilly.

Update: Coincidentally, today's Leonard Lopate show has an excellent discussion about the evolving meaning of Freedom.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where the rubber hits the turf

During my workout the other day at McCarren Park, I saw a crew (two people) repairing the synthetic field at McCarren Park so I took the opportunity to ask them about the reported danger of the rubber infill. They said the danger was overblown and that one would need to physically EAT 21 cubic feet of the stuff to attain a measurable lead level. This sort of jibes with our thought that one should always be at least somewhat wary of what's underfoot in the City.

Still, I'm willing to run barefoot on the synthetic (carefully washing feet in shower afterward). This situation could not be more different from the dirt and gravel field that proceeded it, which even included screws, nails, and pieces of metal plate. A single person running across the field caused a major dust storm and during windy days, downwind soccer teams could not see the far goal.

Given the neighborhood's industrial past and high volume of trucks, I'm pretty sure that dust (which became airborn at the least wisp of breeze) delivered more lead on one afternoon than a lifetime on the artificial turf would do.

It's possible that the stuff is not as safe as it should be but I for one am grateful that it's there.

By the way, the repair team was not wearing dust masks or respirators. They had on rubber gloves but that's because they were using some nasty looking glue to hold the turf down.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Season's Greetings

What better way to greet Spring on its first day than to get the he11 out of town?

That's what I did: after dropping Sebastian off at school I high-tailed it up to Rockefeller State Park Preserve for a beautiful long run through the woods and fields. I basically had the place to myself--my only company was birds, livestock, and a group of gardeners busily readying the place for the new season.

It was simply gorgeous, with a soft and filtered light, cool fresh air and birdsong everywhere. The snow flurry just made the whole thing somehow sweeter, as the 40+degree temps laughingly told winter to stop teasing.

It's Springtime now.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Growing when others are shrinking

Editor's Note: This is the first in our occasional series of profiles of people who are finding success through approaches that defy the conventional wisdom.

Lisa Cooper and Joan Daidone have been slowly growing their art consulting business for several years now. This past winter, in the middle of the "Great Recession," they opened a brick-and-mortar gallery. At a moment when so many galleries are pulling down their huge garage doors and turning off the track lights, it's really refreshing and encouraging to see two smart women betting on the upside.

Unlike hedge funds, derivatives, or bundled and securatized mortgages, art isn't going anywhere. Art is integral to our very humanity and it has always been and will always be. In fact, I'm guessing that my modest art collection is holding its value far better than my 401(k). It wouldn't take much, right?

Of course that's not why we collect art and it's not why we make art.

Art as a touch stone for positive change is at the very heart of Lisa and Joan's mission. I met them at last year's Affordable Art Fair and we had a lengthy conversation about art's capacity to help us find meaning in our daily lives. It was very fitting to have the conversation at a venue designed to foster new collectors. They're very passionate about it--and they donate a percentage of their proceeds to two art-related charities. They know what they're talking about when it comes to art and they definitely walk the walk.

Good intentions are all well and good but they don't amount to much without a solid business plan. That's what is so exciting about their trajectory: they have been very careful and methodical. They started with art parties and appointment-only residential viewings. They added a few art fairs to their portfolio, which makes sense given the high percentage of revenue most galleries pick up on the art fair circuit. Now they have taken the next logical step, which is to open a brick-and-mortar gallery with regular hours. But they've been careful and smart about it: the space is in Riverdale and it's not huge. They have their overhead very much under control.

It is a smart combination of ambitious courage with an extremely humble and incremental approach that matches their mission of changing the world one work of art at a time.

They're growing when others are shrinking and you can only wish them the greatest success.

I have a feeling they'll do pretty well.

People we admire

Things have been going pretty well for Citymouse and Countrymouse of late. The career's going well, family life is rocking, a few irons in the fire and a chicken in the pot. Still, in these bleakish times we can all use a little good news right?

In addition to the usual Love/Hate the City Stuff, the Arcane Musings, the Neighborhood News, and the occasional self-promotion, we're adding a new thread to the blog about people we admire--particularly those who defy the conventional wisdom and do things in a new (and cool) way.

These people lift us up with their energy and the good example they set but on a more fundamental level, they give us new ideas and help us see things in a new way. Most people we know are quite open to suggestions these days.

Please email any suggestions or link us to stuff you may have written.



Computer Problems

Well the Blue Screen of Death finally check-mated me and took my computer down. But I overturned the board and made sure he doesn't do that again. I'll buy the next one from a different company.

While I'm waiting on the new machine, I'm computer surfing (or posting from my phone), which makes it more difficult to blog and a real big pain to post photos.

So please hang in there for the next few weeks while the photos are a little more rare.

Thanks for the patience.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Convergence of the bad....

Any regular visitor to this blog knows how much I love invisible threads and hidden parallels. When talking about the Armory Show extravaganza of this past weekend, it’s impossible to avoid comparisons to ArtBaselMiami. One connection between the two whacked me over the head and simply demanded to be blogged.

It’s unusual to find a work of art that stands out in a big pond like like Miami, but there was one that was just head-an-shoulders below the rest in terms of badness. [Photo here--it's not for all audiences] It just reached a little too far in trying to be sensationalist and landed in the zone of the annoying--like a child in mid-tantrum who really really wants you to pay attention to him and winds up creating the opposite desire. Seldom do my friends and I all agree about all aspects of art but they were unanimous their sympathy for me needing to sit in a booth next to that horrible thing--doubly so since Bridge Miami was so dead there were no customers to distract me. I'll always remember that piece, but for the wrong reasons.

Back in New York, I'm gallery surfing in Williamsburg during the art fairs. There's one gallery that sits head-and-shoulders below any other in terms of ridiculous and annoying attempts at sensationalism. It's a good place to see naive comicbook art or lurid paintings of boobs with acne-faced teens (or occasionally satyrs) oggling or fondling them. Sebastian refuses to go in there and he's right. I don't want to validate them by creating a google hit for them, but insiders will know the place from its shorebird name.

What should I find in the back room of said horrible gallery but the same horses and erections from Miami! I wanted to high-five the room because it's seldom that you see such a perfect marriage between awful artist and awful gallery. I salute them and thank all parties for renewing my faith in God and humanity.

Don't get me wrong: the weekend was alot of fun. I saw much great work, connected with old friends and met lots of new people. It was like the Miami Fair but sleeping in my own bed. I skipped the big fair and went to a bunch of satellites. My fave was the Fountain Fair. It certainly had the best party. How many other art fairs could boast a below-deck, a mizzen-mast, an engine room, a murder lounge, a sunset couch, a roving band of pirates, a hotdog grill, and a burlesque girl in the old red-white-and-blue. America the beautiful...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All about Community

One real estate company that opened on the South Side during the recent boompainted its back wall with lots of friendly and encouraging terms that seemlike core values of an ideal company as upstanding member of a community. Infact, I think "Community" is one of their catch-terms along with such other novel concepts as "Integrity," "Passion," "Commitment," and "Family."

Walking by their storefront operation, I have always wondered if those terms are intended as reminders to their staff of core values that their employer honestly and demonstrably espouses, or if those are simply some words a focus group found gets people "in the mood" to buy overpriced real estate.

Given the almost entirely deleterious effect of the rampant and often predatory speculation that has transformed the neighborhood, I would doubt the former. Also given the ubiquity of equally admirable but transparently meaningless terms such as "authenticity" in real estate advertising, I imagine they must believe that it pays to seem like one really, really cares. Or perhaps they think they don't fit the stereotype and want us all (or at least their customers) to think they're a different kind of realtor; one that is more interested in building communities than in laundering hedge fund bonuses.

I really, really want to think the best of people, but some make it so much harder than it needs to be. One small thing this particular enterprise could do to help fool me into thinking they care about the neighborhood is simply shoveling their sidewalk, as they are legally obligated to do.In fact, they're almost always the last business on the Southside not to performthis small civic duty--and the Southside is not exactly known for its commitment to clean streets. If I recall correctly, they have sat out just about everysnowstorm this season.

What makes it more pathetic is that of all business ventures out there inthe world, one would think that a realtor would have a thick rolodex ofhandymen and maintenance-types they could call upon. They ought also be well versed in the laws--formal and otherwise--that govern storefront sidewalk maintenance, not to mention the ways of smart business. One would equally suppose they ought to have a clue about what it means to be part of a community.

At least their wall says they're all about it.