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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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cheered by the Gloom

Root growth is crucial: otherwise the tree tumbles. And this is the season for it.

This drear always makes me listen to Nick Drake or Beck, which reminds me of Jeremy Blake and that takes me right back to the sources of my art. He showed me a way to make sense of the absurd contradictions that are all too apparent to 14-year old boy, and which I'm afraid never really go away. For him, they deepened and became too much. Sad stuff.

When I stepped out into the cold damp this morning for my daily walk to the studio, I was surprised at how wonderful it was: it was misty and lively, with a strong scent of the Earth. Underneath the leaves, I could smell sleeping things: plants and worms and microscopic creatures, gathering their strength and perhaps dreaming of spring. Instead of hiding under my covers I want to run and dance in it and even as I write I cannot keep my eyes away from the window. The tree branches scratching the light-table grey sky are more compelling to me than back lines and circles on my laptop screen.

I've been telling people that I love January because it's so productive--nothing to do but lock the door and get to work. But I think that's a slight misappraisal. There's something subversive about the deep parts of winter that is related to the sources of artistic inspiration--it's a renewal that takes place under the surface, a gathering of fuel. My dogwood and new cherry are showing buds that will explode in March and April. As an artist, I'm doing the same thing: working hard in the studio and developing many new ideas that I'll unleash soon. It's all very exciting.

Los Angeles seemed like an odd fit for Jeremy and his minor-key groove. Maybe that's where it all went wrong. I don't recall ever speaking to him about the season cycle or the natural world, but I can easily imagine the plastic smiles and relentless cheer would must have exhausted him.

I'm on record a huge fan of Springtime but right now I'm grateful for the January grey. Time to get out in it while it lasts!

Friday, January 14, 2011

I Love It | I Love It Not

We review a big variety of work and give each artist individual critiques and attention. It's a lot of work, not made easier by the crowded, unflattering setting.

It’s jury time at McGuffey. Three times a year, we invite new membership applications that consist mostly of four to six submitted works of art. All current renting members are required to make a decision on each applicant based on these works and to provide written feedback for those not accepted.

It’s an agonizing process that involves far more than would an exhibition or residency jury. McGuffey is those things but also much more and the process would be easier if the Art Center’s purpose were more straightforward.

This problem has existed since the founding thirty-five years ago and through the years the Council has attempted to make it easier by developing four selection criteria:

1. Inventiveness and Vision
2. Compelling and thought-provoking
3. Formal Mastery
4. Professional Presentation

Every batch includes one or two submissions that are clearly successful and a number that are obviously not there—and honestly never will be. The majority are someplace in between and they are troublesome.

It would be easy to sit high on the hill and imagine myself some kind of master, guardian of artistic excellence and keeper of the bastion. McGuffey is not a prize, however; it is a subsidized art center that provides an excellent opportunity that more advanced artists might be able to find in other ways. Or, conversely, one could equally argue that because it is such a great opportunity it should be reserved for only the most serious and committed.

Furthermore, we are not attempting to fill a fixed number of slots—we could conceivable accept or reject everyone in a given month, so a task that is subjective from the outset can seem arbitrary.

I attempt to solve the dilemma by allowing myself wiggle-room* on one (but no more) of the above criteria but I demand in exchange that the artist bring something else compelling or undeniable to the table: commitment, heart, freshness, or world-rocking on an emotional level.

And in all cases, I want to know that the artist is completely committed to their art: that is a minimum. One could easily ask who I am to judge whether someone is trying hard enough? It’s a fair question but we agreed at the outset that the process is subjective.

I take my responsibility very seriously and the applicant needs to do the same.

* Wiggle-room does not equate to a free pass. Blatant failure on any of the above counts leads to denial on any borderline case. That’s where the comment section comes in handy; some shortcomings can be corrected in future re-applications (which are invited). Others cannot and it’s better to find out before an artist is granted lifetime membership.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Public Art can mean many things beyond statues in traffic circles.

One of the coolest things about being a McGuffey artist is that it places me right in the heart of the Charlottesville art scene. Its central location, large number of artists and open-door environment and long history mean that McGuffey plays a really important part in the region’s cultural development. As part of the Community Relations team I get to be very active that way.

One of our main forms of outreach is our Spotlight series. This year, it will be a series of open, round-room conversations about ways to enliven the arts scene. Charlottesville is an amazing place full of interesting people with visionary ideas and big accomplishments. Yet to judge strictly by its visual appearance, it could seem like a very sedate place.

When I was having coffee with Mayor Dave hashing out the details of the Buy Art Give Art campaign, he challenged us—the arts community—to find a way to get more visual art into the daily lives of residents, and to do so in a way that is visible to visitors. Spotlight will be a forum to get the conversation going.

There will be four monthly sessions, each looking at a different form of public visual culture:

Official Public Art
Wednesday, February 16 · 7:00pm - 9:00pm
The City wants more public art and artists want more public art. What can we as a creative community do to make it happen? [info]

Unofficial Public Art
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 · 7:00pm - 9:00pm
What are the benefits of and barriers to more “unofficial” public art? [info]

Radical Personal Expression
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 · 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Body Art, Wearable Art, Yard Art, and Art Cars. [info]

From Pocket Party to Fringe Festival
Wednesday, May 18, 2011 · 7:00pm - 9:00pm
What opportunities exist for wider artistic collaborations and celebrations in the public sphere? [info]

We’re not here to give answers, lecture anyone, nor simply complain. Our goal is to bring people with new ideas together to inspire one another and to form alliances. If some kind of creative collaboration comes out of every session, it will be a success.