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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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Open for Business?

I recently attended a seminar at McGuffey for artists about connecting to the outside world. The speaker placed much emphasis on the notion of being ”open for business.” By that she meant being easy to find and employing transparent and consistent business practices. These themes echoed much of what was said in my “artworld as high school” session, so they have been at the front of my mind of late. During my most recent scouting trip to DC, I witnessed two very good examples: one positive and one negative.

The first place I visited was undergoing installation, which usually means a sign in the window and a locked door. Not here: they had propped the art so to be easily visible and I was welcome—specifically invited—to look around. One of the gallery’s co-owners gave me a quick tour and answered my several questions. Although I didn’t know much about the place before, I left the gallery quite impressed and I would be glad to be a part of what they do in the future.

I knew about the second place from multiple encounters at art fairs and I had long admired their program and their unique approach. Despite the obvious handicap of an off-the-beaten-track location in Anacostia, I was intrigued to see their home base, but would end up flummoxed by horrible customer service.

Two red flags that had me leery should have made me think better. First of all, their web site, which is otherwise quite good, includes only driving directions, even though they are a short walk from the Metro. Of course, it’s not in one of the city’s finest neighborhoods, but to outright discourage pedestrian visitors seems foolish. I was wise enough to call before schlepping out there, but not wise enough realize that the answering machine is never a welcoming receptionist—even if it does say that the gallery is open.

Always a glutton for punishment, I made the trip anyway, and it took about two hours from downtown due to a “medical emergency” in the metro system. It was a long journey and I was pretty cranky when I finally got there and found the place dark. There was a sign on the window that said the gallery was open (oh, really?), with a phone number for admittance, which I called. A woman said she would be right down to let me in, I figured she must have been upstairs or something.

Seriously ten minutes passed before someone who looked to be the super from the building next door took pity on me and called her again and received instruction to let me in. The space—and the art—inside was OK, but nothing too special; certainly not worth the hassle. On the way out, two police men who had seen me waiting asked jokingly if I had figured out the magic word.

Apparently, it was not “Open.”

Written April 6, 2010.

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