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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Saturday, March 26, 2011

When the Furrier Flies

Liz had a Times photographer with her who shot some nice images here using a DSLR but this was an occasion where my S90 was probably a better tool for the job. A high-end point-and-shoot it is very strong in low light but its best feature in an occasion like this is its very humble appearance. No one minded me poking my toy-looking camera around or changed their behavior at all, which is very good in such a emotionally charged, intimate moment.

One of the best things about my job is visiting the myriad people and places along the Marathon route. The reason why it's such a cool event is because it's in New York: home of eccentrics, maniacs, and endless variety.

While she was writing her book about the Marathon, my friend Liz connected with an old man furrier (is there any other kind?) in Greenpoint named Irving Feller. When she heard he was going out of business, she had to make one last visit. She let me tag along.

Liz did a great job of describing Irving's sanctum of solitude, so I won't attempt (and fail) to duplicate her work. Instead I'll just share a few quick impressions.

She and I share a hearty reverence for the bygone and disappearing, the surprising and the gritty; all of these traits are abundant in Irving's musty piles of personal history. I never knew the guy, and I would not exactly call him friendly, but somehow I'm sad to see him go. For all his crankiness he's endearing and he possesses an integrity that demands immediate respect. He's not pretending anything.

Someone asked me what seemed the most valuable and in a room full of sables and minks, I did not hesitate: I went straight to an old dresser completely filled with ballpoint pen drawings Irving executed during the increasingly abundant spare time of a failing businessman and polymath artist. His daughter gave me one and I'll definitely honor it.

The streets of New York are lined with metal gates over storefronts with "For Rent" signs and each shuttered enterprise is someone's dream realized--and ended. What a privilege to be given entree into one such life story! The new is built upon the old, and there is much nourishment to be found in that composting soil.

Irving's place provided plenty of food for inspiration.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Notes from Spotlight 11.1: Official Public Art

Art in Place

16 February 2011

Notes compiled by Linsey Mears

Elizabeth Breeden gives an overview of the Art in Place program, funded through the city’s 1% for art fund. The monies were originally designated for art (that was never realized) at the Water Street parking garage.

She explains a rule of official public art: publicly-owned pieces must be maintained in their original form of creation by the owning entity, or they must be returned/destroyed. This leads to a discussion about Tom Givens’ Whale Tail on the 250 bypass, destroyed by a microburst storm. The sculpture was replaced by a new generation of three smaller whale tails, at the time and expense of the artist. Also the notion of temporality of public art and its dependency on engineering and materials. Rick Brown’s tree sculpture [pictured] in McIntire Park, visible from the 250 bypass, is an example: formed from a fallen tree, it is ephemeral.

More practicalities of Art in Place: the artist retains ownership of his/her piece and is responsible for insuring it, generally with a 1-2 million dollar liability policy. There is no formal selection process for the city to purchase Art in Place pieces. Selections are generally based on the number of positive emails the city receives about each piece.

Breeden introduces another program she’s currently working on—a public art project in conjunction with the Jefferson School and Vinegar Hill, an historically African-American community in Charlottesville that was razed during “urban renewal” of the 1960s-70s. The art project is slated to launch on Juneteenth (June 19th, emancipation day) 2012. Also mentioned is a UVA student-made memorial in the works to honor the enslaved laborers

Beth Turner talks about UVa’s commitment to public art. She’s on the advisory committee to UVa’s president. She had much to do with the Calder Foundation’s lending of a Calder sculpture for Central Grounds. Shares that a Henry Moore bronze will be coming to the terrace of the Bayley Art Museum grounds.

Brings up considerations of public art—the effect on and relationship with contextual space of a work. Then there are the “care and feeding” considerations like lighting and security. Discussion about the Sanda Iliescu piece, Lines of Darkness and Light, an installation of black fabric on the columns of the Rotunda. President Sullivan wants UVa’s public art to open up the dialogue for change.

Turner emphasizes the value for artists of walking through an application process. UVa’s public art application exists online and any artist may apply. http://www.virginia.edu/arts/ (click on Resources link). She suggests looking at the NEA application as a model, and making a specific plan to present, then gathering supporters and stakeholders to help see it through.

Peter Krebs brings up the issue of the public artist’s need for project management. Discussion about artist as project manager, Michaelangelo and Richard Serra as models of artist-managers, and the need for education on the subject for artists.

George Sampson, head of the Arts Administration program at UVa, talks about the program. It began in Spring 2006 and has graduated 1000 students so far. He announces the Design Thinking mashup, a symposium at UVa School of Architecture Feb 22-23 2011. Its purpose is “to explore collaboration, creative research, and community in creative problem solving techniques.”

Aaron Eichorst, an artist and arts educator, describes his current public art project involving elementary school students. The piece will be a mosaic covering a bridge at a Habitat for Humanity site. Brings up discussion about artist as facilitator and agile thinker. The importance of the way artists approach and process a problem, and the inherent value of the artist’s thoughts. In Seattle, the city officially places an artist on every aspect of city planning.

Maggie Guggenheimer, director of Piedmont Council of the Arts, shares some of her experiences with public art administration. In 2008, PCA began the Storyline Project in Charlottesville, as an expansive, creative solution to a Cville Parks and Rec bus needing a new paint job.

Since then the Storyline Project has implemented a collaborative public art piece on the free speech monument on the downtown mall, a history walk, a Belmont wall project, and presently a Rivanna river walk. Guggenheimer describes the project as providing transformative experiences for both the participants and the artists/designers involved. She reminds us that the free speech wall is a readily available public resource for anyone—just contact the city.

Brings up an op-ed piece in the Hook about a recent drawing and erasure on the free speech wall that some may consider pushing the boundaries of acceptable speech and of censorship.
Discussion of the artist’s loss of control once art is put into the public context. An example is Nini Baekstrom’s public sculpture Terra Woman, which has been added to by individuals, thereby changing the artist’s intent. Is it an inherent aspect of public art or is it just bad manners? Breeden notes that all vandalism she knows of on the Art in Place pieces has been alcohol-induced.

Discussion of the meaning of official public art. Some ideas: public art as a dialogue between artist/architect and the landscape to achieve a harmonious interaction with a space; public art as the visual expression of a community’s heart.

More about Spotlight | More about McGuffey

Friday, March 11, 2011

Changing Spaces

A more rational division of display versus work space is more conducive to mental clarity and creativity.

The other night, a friend of mine was criticizing my studio set-up for being too much of a workshop and not the type of place that makes someone want to buy art. The best work was relegated to corners and the new projects (such as Monticello Road), which I had presented front-and-center, are not yet to a stage of realization where commerce can come into play.

I try not to give too much credence to unsolicited feedback, even (or especially) from my friends, but I couldn’t easily dismiss her logic. A little reorganization could both highlight what I’m currently working on and put my finished work in a far better light. Spring is a time to freshen things up and my time had come.

As I write this, I’m in the process of reorganizing my studio with an emphasis on visual logic. One clean wall has museum-quality work. A second big wall has affordable art, presented in a friendly manner. My largest wall, which is next to my desk, flat file and worktable has new stuff hung with thumbtacks so I can easily move it around—or out. The place looks better, but there is also more clarity about where I’ve been, where I’m going and how it fits together. It works better and is more conducive to creative thinking.

On a separate track that I now see is related, Meredith and I have been itching to transform our living space as well. We knew the house would need some changes when we bought it but we wanted to live in awhile to really get to know the place first. It seems that we’re ready for a change, even if we still don’t know what we want.

To that end we’ve brought a series of architects through our home to get estimates and we’ve gained a lot just by listening to them. Frankly, many of their best—and in retrospect most obvious—ideas are things we’d never considered. One of the coolest things we learned is that we could make some impactful changes without spending a lot of money: punching through a wall or judiciously enlarging a window, for example. Many ideas that we love will require cash that we do not yet possess and will have to wait.

For now, we’re going to use some of our tax refund to retain one of the firms to create a set of detailed measurements and drawings of what we have and provide a few scenarios, ranging from simple to elaborate. Then we’ll get to work on the pieces we can manage and have a direction forward.

We are products of our surroundings and the spaces where we live and work are more easily transformed than we might expect. When we enliven our environment, we inject new energy into our lives. It’s a process that is easily neglected but so important for living a creative, fulfilling life.