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.

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