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, February 20, 2011

Why am I doing this?

The Auto Body shop has a pretty clear purpose within the life of the neighborhood. What about the artist?

What is the artist’s role in the day-to-day life of the community?

That is a difficult question, a heresy in some circles. The butcher and the baker know, why not artists? Don’t we owe our neighbors something better than “to differentiate humanity from savagery” and other such vague evasions? That stuff’s not good enough for me anymore. Even if an artist’s contributions are not as direct as, say, the postman's I firmly believe that the artist is an essential part of the civic organism. But how?

Someone told me the other day that the arts define what we, as a people, are. So the artist’s role is two-fold: investigative researcher and maker of symbols around which a community may rally. The best art defines a time and a place so strongly it lasts into posterity but it can also serve a purpose right here and now.

As I walk along Monticello Road, I’m getting to know the community in which I live and as I talk to the people I meet, I’m learning about them and they about me. We’re sharing and learning and I’m keeping track with my notebook and my camera. When the exhibition takes place, they will see my impressions but the works will also be touchstones to provoke conversation, which is the glue that cements a community together.

I hope that my explorations will help me understand the place where I live and knit me more intricately into the web of human relationships there. By sharing my investigations and giving them physical form, I hope to strengthen bonds within an already tightly-knit community and to endow this fascinating community with a sense of place that is larger than the individual people and places it comprises.

This is a broad task and it seems a tad philosophical or abstract but it is also very concrete. It is the sum of day-to-day encounters and conversations with the people and places I see every day. It’s as real and essential as the other activities happening around the neighborhood every day.

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