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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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.

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