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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Tuesday, July 27, 2010
It's all about the kids and unfortunately I don't have waivers from the kids for this blog. I DO have permission for the PCA web site though, so go there to see lots more (and frankly better) photos.
Last week, Sebastian and I got together with a big group of rising sixth-graders and volunteers for a walk through a part of Charlottesville and its history. The following week, the kids made a mural and told stories about their experience at the Free Expression Wall (Community Chalkboard). It was fun and really inspirational.
The walk started at the Jefferson School and wound through the once-vital-and-now-disappeared neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, the one-time heart of Charlottesville’s African-American community. The walk proceeded down Main Street, with a stop at the historic Paramount before concluding at the Free Expression Wall. All throughout, we studied the urban fabric and heard about what was there before, and helped the kids record their observations through both words and drawings (field packs provided).
The chalkboard drawing was a wonderful outlet for the kids to record their impressions and dreams for the city. It is worth noting that the children did not generally draw anything specifically related to the history lessons the adults had recited to them. Theirs was a more generalized vision that ranged from green to fairly dark, channeling memories, hopes, and dreams—often quite abstract.
The project reminded us that there are many layers of meaning in the places we inhabit daily. It was intended to awaken the latent and very human urge to share—through whatever means at our disposal—our own thoughts and impressions. Free expression is a right that must be nurtured and protected: not only against suppression or censorship but from our own fears and inhibitions that silence us. We have some interesting things to say and if we make an effort to share them, we will inspire others.
The children certainly inspired me and I hope our efforts helped some of them as well. From what I witnessed, I think there’s reason for optimism.
Forty-eight hours later, the mural had completely disappeared under the sea of commentary passersby write on the chalkboard. Perhaps it was victim of an afternoon shower or squall. It doesn’t realty matter for all expression is fleeting. It’s not a durable product anyway: it’s a process and one that needs to be exercised.
Story|line is a collaboration between the Piedmont Council of the Arts, the Bridge, Charlottesville Parks and Recreation, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
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Sunday, July 18, 2010
Where I once carved marble statuary now sits a crate full of toilet-paper and towel rack fixtures. The dust is familiar though.
On a hot afternoon visit to DC, I undertook to visit my old studio at 57 N Street. I knew it would be different--all the old places have changed. I still wasn't prepared for what I found.
I didn't think I would be able to go inside. The fancy condos I expected are not usually welcoming to sentimental artists. That's been my experience with my other ex-studios. They don't want to be friends.
This time, the door was open and I went inside.
Now the place is warehouse (open to the public) for an architectural salvage store. The space was opened up and stuffed full of old doors, mantlepieces, tile fragments, clawfoot tubs, and the like. Without the warren of plywood walls that defined the old spaces, I was able to walk about freely and I was actually able to appreciate the old building's industrial past a little better.
I had to concede that this is an appropriate use for the facility, not really that different from the way we used it. I was a little sad to see the art gone but it would be unjust to cry "gentrification" in this case and that fact left me oddly chagrined.
All of the spaces in the building we had inhabited so intensively--the gallery, the printing room, the roof garden, my studio, my friends' lofts--were all being used for something quite different, but honorable. There was a strange dissonance between my very real memories, which were replaying in the present tense, and the objective, undeniable reality in front of me.
The real eye-opener came on my way out. I stopped at the counter and explained who I was, how I was an artist there and how we transformed the building. The clerk did not even look up. "Yeah, ok," was all he said. Buh-bye.
Time waits for no one.
Having made my primary point, I'll indulge in one gratuitous yarn about how much things have changed--and how much harder life was for me than the current whippersnapper tenants.
Although Shaw still has its rough edges, like all of DC it's slightly less gritty there. In my temporal dissonance I was reminded just how bad it was when I was there. The present-day entrance to the warehouse is made of wood and glass without any discernible gate or bars. That would have been ridiculous back in the day; I'll never forget the time when someone tried to force entry by ramming their car into our medieval style loading dock gate.
Time does march on.