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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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Closing a chapter

We're all migrants, one way or another.

I’m rolling back up to New York today on a mission to pack and retrieve my studio. It’s a perfect—if chilly—fall day, two days after Thanksgiving and the day after Sebastian’s 6th birthday.

The early hour (I’m on the Starlight Express) plus the exquisite light makes it a perfect day to work on my Starlight photo series but the bus is packed and I’m not by the window, so I’ll have to remember the beauty with my mind instead.

As usual, the trip is fraught with emotion; more than the usual separation anxiety and the oddness of instantly transforming from Countrymouse to Citymouse over and over. I’m stressed about the usual worries of moving (and moving artwork to boot). Too many details are unresolved two days out: haven’t heard from the truck company; don’t know if I’ll have elevator access (long, tiresome story there); not sure if I’ll have anyone to help me. Yikes!

The big thing in the background, though, is that this will finally cap off my move from New York to Charlottesville. Of course I’m sad to give up the studio but I’m totally pumped to get going in my new space, which is great. Most of all, I will be very glad to have definitively completed my move, which has dragged on for six months now, keeping me in limbo and effectively without a base of operations. I am a very nimble guy, but it will be wonderful to finally have my feet on solid ground.

Moving is like breaking up with someone—best to do it decisively and without hanging on to something that’s not there anymore.

But will New York want to be “just friends?”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting to know the neighbors

Not our house but one nearby. I love the harmony in the neighborhood between landscape and architecture.

I was talking to a fellow Brooklyn transplant this evening as we were hanging the holiday show at the McGuffey Arts Center. We were comparing notes about why we each left New York and why we picked Charlottesville.

“People always tell me that it must be hard to adjust to life in Charlottesville,” she told me. “I’ve actually found it very easy.”

I think a very big reason is because people here are so welcoming and are very gracious with their hospitality and glad to make lasting connections. They see value in meeting new people and are confident in opening their circle to new people.

There’s a social stinginess in the New York art scene that is quite unpleasant, where people look at each other as resources to be tapped—or potential exploiters to be guarded against. It’s curious to find that attitude in a place where most everyone is an outsider, and outcast or an immigrant.

But that’s precisely the problem: New York is a city of 7 million people who are hungry for something. It is a basic fact of living in New York that you are constantly meeting new people and bombarded with their points of view—wanted or unwanted—and you cannot open yourself to everyone.

The crush of humanity there requires a strategic approach to social networking but there is a razor-thin line between caution and calculus. And insecure, calculating people are so tiresome! It’s too Latin (as in ancient Rome) for me.

This past weekend, we received several spontaneous invitations to cocktails, to coffee, to playdate from various neighbors we hardly knew. These were interesting people too: a writer, a designer, an architect, an economist. Busy people with a lot going on, but somehow able to make time to welcome a new family to the block.

Don’t get me wrong: we have many wonderful generous friends in New York, who are full of grace and whom I admire greatly. Of course you can carve a wonderful life out there, but it will assuredly be a lot of work. We left because basic tenants of a good life are unnecessarily difficult (or expensive) in New York, and they’re mostly easier here

So when people ask me if I’m finding it difficult to adjust to life in Charlottesville, my answer is always the same, though never simple. I’m happy to be here and I miss my friends back there. But almost everything is easier here, even for a new arrival.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Infinite Stakes

Yesterday’s news was full of optimism about the art market as bidding was high at Sotheby’s Fall Contemporary offering. There was some speculation that it heralded the end of the art-market portion of the great recession. I’m not sure if it was related, but bidding was quite animated at the Virginia Art Book Center’s annual Raucous Auction as well. It was a cool event in a very cool place.

VABC, which amusingly shares an acronym with the Virginia bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control, is a cooperative studio specializing in printmaking and hand-made letterpress. Housed in a former industrial facility within a very easy walk of downtown, the Center is a great resource and very smartly run. They’re not pretentious but they do great work. It’s the virtuous cycle: excellence builds confidence and confidence is cool.

Their fundraiser was the place to be this evening with terrific catered food and wine and a very lively atmosphere. Those ingredients, plus excellent artwork on offer seemed to telekinetically loosen all the purse strings and I was not exempt myself.

There were many prints that I would have loved to add to my own collection, but there was one item that far outshone everything else. A collaboratively-made deck of 45 cards called “Infinite Stakes”, with card each printed by a different artist, was offered in a unique “reverse auction,” where the price is set at a given amount that went down with each commitment to buy another number from the edition. When all fifteen sets were purchased, the price landed at $150, which was an amazing bargain. The room sold out and I'm quite sure it was a successful night for the organizers.

I couldn’t be happier with my purchase except for the fact that it’s $150 that I really don’t have. That’s why credit cards exist: to buy things that we really should not. I’m not sure if the Recession is over or not but there is optimism in the air, quite possibly unwarranted. It [the optimism] is a condition that cannot be easily cured.

For now I’m going to spread my new set of cards on a clean surface and look at them carefully. Maybe they will contain some answers.

Friday, November 6, 2009


What a privalege I had, to witness Meb's triumph from up-close on the photo truck. Check back for a cool sequence where Errol Anderson caught Meb's decisive move.
Photo courtesy New York Road Runners.

[Citymouse exhales….]

What an experience! As always, working the ING New York City Marathon was a grueling experience, more exhausting in its way than running. For some reason, subject for a future post, this iteration was harder than any other. Obviously, orchestrating the largest marathon ever held anywhere will be a very taxing experience. Fortunately, something truly special happened on race day, in the person of a certain man with a three-lettered name.

Meb Keflezighi’s victory on the streets of New York was a big deal for American running and it was huge for us at New York Road Runners. Despite his Olympic silver medal, he was not many people’s pick to win the race. He was not even the most heralded American to toe the line. Meb has a huge heart and in the days before the race he was all business. His one-word answers at the pre-race press conference hinted to me that he had big ambitions in mind.

Meb’s a legitimate champion, boasting numerous national records and the afore-mentioned Olympic hardware. Yet he had struggled through a multi-year stretch of injuries and some sub-par performances, leaving many to wonder if, at age 34, he was done. With this year’s string of personal bests, including this huge new triumph, Meb is not ready to hang up the waffles quite yet and he won’t be anyone’s underdog anymore.

It’s not just his underdog status that made him a favorite around the office, however. Meb is a truly beautiful human being, which is quickly apparent to anyone who meets him. Two years ago after a disastrous 20th place finish in the five boroughs, he did something I had never heard of before or since: he bought lunch for the entire Road Runners staff. That’s a hundred people. If you want to measure a man’s quality, look to how he responds to defeat. It’s easy to be graceful in victory, and Meb has certainly met that standard as well in the past week, but his goodness is fueled by something deeper than the circumstance of the moment.

Meb’s victory is a redeeming gift to the sport and to America; it would not be a huge stretch to call it an Athletics equivalent to the ascendancy of Berack Obama. Like with president Obama, the lunatic fringe is wringing its hands about whether Meb Keflezghi, born in Eritrea but an American citizen and resident since early youth, is truly an American.

There should be no doubt however. Only one of the scores of runners lining up for the USA Championship, which took place within the larger marathon, wore the letters USA on his chest, right above the three letters on his name bib. He knows and appreciates better than most what America is all about and as he cruised to the finish line, Meb pointed to the nation’s abbreviation and gave thumbs up. He brought the victory home to all of us, for the first time since another child of immigrants, Alberto Salazar who was born in Cuba, did so way back in 1984.