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.

About | Summary | Events | Media | Backers | Contact/Sign Up | Donate

Monday, April 25, 2011

Unexpected Singularity

Our friends went for the Full Virginia: from the beach to a mountaintop and--of course--the sweet hill country in between.

We had just said goodbye to some dear friend visitors from New York and to chase away the sadness, I went for a run through the neighborhood and down into the woods. I was met by a feeling I did not expect.

As I rolled through the hills, amidst the yellow storm of pollen; past the banks of iris; along brick sidewalks and faux-brick painted asphalt crosswalks that light up and make cars stop; past farm houses and Belmont Bungaloes, stacks of spare construction materials; hearing country music, rock-and-roll, blues and young couples arguing about sex; smelling wisteria, honeysuckle and barbeque; giving and receiving suggestive glances; in an arena defined by surrounding mountains, old-seeming roads, and walls of poison ivy, I was keenly aware of how singular this place is.

By showing my friends around my favorite places, I quite naturally focused on what's good and what's unique. I had a wonderful time just spending time with them and stay-cationing in a place that's just as great to visit as to live. It was a good reminder of what I love and how well we live.

As I cruised back to my happy little house, seat of my happy life, the echoes of my friends laughter were waiting of course but there was something else: a refreshing contentment, as if waking from a good nights sleep on a bright, clear morning.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Richmond Rocks

Who says art is not affordable? It's good to see Richmond's tobacco infrastructure being repurposed for the arts.

I hadn’t really explored Richmond very much but my recent trip was a good introduction to the art scene there. There are some cool places

The main thing I realized is that it is a legitimate mid-sized city with all the cultural possibilities and interactions that status brings. Charlottesville, by contrast, is a small city—one that overachieves in a big way—but small nevertheless.

The biggest eye-opener was the Visual Arts Center—a gorgeous facility (better than any university I’ve seen) dedicated to community service through art instruction. It was abuzz with activity—in this case youth getting off the street and into the arts. It’s quite different from McGuffey that’s more about small but intense conversations.

Richmond boasts several first-rate galleries and refreshingly friendly compared to New York. The city is still small enough that everyone seems invested in growing the pie rather than dividing it up. There seems to be limitless studio space--much of it concentrated in the riotous Plant Zero | ArtWorks complex. The former was cool and the latter gave me artigo and made me appreciate McGuffey's curatorial filter.

There is plenty of funk—thrift shops, cafes, bookstores, quirky architecture—everything you would want. I was thinking about it on the drive home but I love where I am. You gotta love places (and people) for what they are and Charlottesville works for me.

It’s cool to know about this other interesting place down the road.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If the Landlord Wants it and the People Want it, What's the Problem?

In the past week, two great new murals have appeared. Both have strong messages and strong Art-Historical pedigrees and both were done with the approval of the landlord. The pictured image (under Belmont Bridge) is NOT however the subject of this post.

In the most recent Spotlight discussion, someone put forth a notion I'll call the Breeden Doctrine. We were talking about what it takes for a piece of renegade public art to last and she said it's quite simple: if it's good, the public will embrace it and allow it to stay. Therefore, if we want more public art, artists need to simply get their stuff out there--a leap of courage--and do good stuff.

Right now in Charlottesville, we see that dynamic playing out in real time.

About two weeks ago, a group of students from a local high school got together with a local bookstore/artspace to paint a huge mural on the exterior of the latter's downtown space, which is located in a fair dilapidated stretch but right in the middle of town.

Literally before the paint had dried, the City's Architectural Review Board threatened to fine the store for modifying the space without a permit. The mural depicts a Native American from Edward Curtis' famous series of portraits from the turn of the last century.

Aside from ruffling the quaintness cops' general aversion to any departure from the Jeffersonian style, the mural sits directly opposite the Lewis and Clark monument, complete with Sacagawea cowering behind the great white men. So the big impressive Indian Chief could seem like a thumb in the eye to some; it's certainly a response.

But you know what? Everyone I've spoken to loves the mural and the creative community seems to have rallied behind it. Even members of the ARB don't seem too upset--they just want their application and fee. So I think it will stay.

Some of the comments I've seen on local discussion fora worry about the precedent: would this not open the door to a monumental portrait of Hitler, for example. I think the answer is no: the public would not accept something they hate. This piece will be allowed to remain because it's right for the location--and a very fine painting.

Of course there's more to it (here| here | here) but it's an interesting question and it's inspiring to see artists inserting their voice into the public sphere, being slapped for it--and defended.