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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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.

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