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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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Financial Quandary

Sometimes, stuff's just not free.

Monticello Road is as much social experiment as art project. There are challenges related to photography and to talking our way into people’s homes and lives but perhaps the most vexing piece is figuring out a way to pay for it.

The typical model is to make art, charge a lot of money for it, and hope that enough people buy so we don’t lose our shirts. The problem is that it inserts money between art and audience and it would not serve for a project about community and dropping intrapersonal barriers to contain an economic wall at its core.

Many have contributed generous portions of their time and talents. Yet, the question of money remains: the project cannot happen without financial legs. So I pose the question to you, my audience, collaborators, and neighbors: how do we make this show happen financially, while remaining true to our values?

Here are the core economic principles any solution must address:

1. Everyone who gives their time for the project, by posing, allowing us to poke around their business, telling stories—or anything—ought to get a framed print. It need not be fancy, but it should be something that they can hang proudly on their wall.

2. The photos, books, and everything else we produce should be available to all, regardless of means. This is a project about community and if someone wants a photo of their friend, neighbor, or favorite spot, they should be able to have it. Cost should be subsidized for those in need.

3. The artist needs to be paid. Typically, the artist fronts huge expenses for materials and presentation, studio, etc. He is lucky when he breaks even. This work is important and should be compensated.

4. The venue (in this case the Bridge PAI) needs to be paid. The Bridge cannot continue its programming (or even continue to exist) without money.

5. The corollary programs (story-telling, film night, architecture talk, etc) should all be free of charge so to encourage the widest participation. At most, a token fee should be charged.

5a. Everyone must feel welcome regardless of means.

I suspect that we will employ a combination of strategies including:
  • A sliding price scale
  • Community-based fund-raising such as kick-start
  • Grants
  • Barter whenever possible (that’s how we’re paying our “models”)
  • In-kind contributions from businesses
  • A donation box
We’re completely open to suggestions for ways to make this thing work and we’re sure that this is not the last time we’ll ask for help. This is a community project and we need your skin in the game: your time, your labor, perhaps your cash, but for now, it is ideas that we’re looking for.

Monticello Road is a photography and story-telling project about the people and places along a mile-long byway that is simultaneously humble and historic, home to many and a reflection of us all. There will be an exhibition and much more in the Spring of 2012.

Project Description | More Photos: Places | People

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Temple of my Mother

My mom would want me to take my camera along on my voyage of remembrance and I'm glad I did! I was channeling something that day and I can't wait to share more of the results.

When the news of my mother’s passing went out, we received many encouraging words and offers of support. It feels really good to know that I am the opposite of alone: I have many friends who would gladly do anything I ask, no matter the reason.

There was one invitation I especially could not resist: James’ cabin in the Goshen Pass, the seat of many joyful memories, a place of terrific beauty, and not least a place where I could spend some quiet time with a very dear friend, talking over weighty (and weightless) matters.

With my family’s blessing I threw my sleeping bag and a cooler in the car and raced over the Blue Ridge with an elated spirit. Knowing I would arrive about an hour before James, I resolved to go for a run and I knew just where I wanted go: a trail called Laurel Run that follows a lovely side canyon along a mossy and steep-falling brook into the heart of the mountains. I just wanted to stretch my legs but I got more than I expected.

After climbing a few miles, the trail petered out into a secluded glen high in a sheltered amphitheater on the mountain’s shoulder. The ground was mossy damp and open, with mighty oaks soaring up to support a green canopy high above. There were no human sounds and a quiet that is not typical in Virginia—just a few crickets, distant birdsong, and the sound of acorns falling.

I had strode unexpectedly into a cathedral, of the kind my mother had often spoken longingly and there could be no better place to remember her. I walked through the trees feeling completely invigorated and in touch with all lives, both current and disappeared or even forgotten. I thought about her presence in this place, within me and everywhere.

At a moment when I was receiving encouraging notes and gifts, this was the mightiest of them all. I am grateful for whatever force called me to that particular place. Whether it was a benevolent voice from my mother or from within me or simple chance that took me there, it was exactly what I needed.

After some remembrance and contemplation, I flew down the mountain and back to the cabin, ready to celebrate. I picked up some of that bumper crop of acorns. I will plant one in my yard to remember my mother, who taught me how to walk with the trees.


I stored the acorns in a little plastic cup on my side porch. Meredith reports that some squirrels raided the place and spirited the acorns away. It looks like the job of planting them is now out of my hands. One can only hope that the squirrels buried the nuts in spots with plenty of light and that they forget a few of them, as they often do. It's an absurdity that my mom would appreciate. Meantime, I'll be on the lookout for tiny seedlings with alternate-lobed leaves.