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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Thursday, April 26, 2012

What we’ve accomplished...so far!

Asking my neighbors for help was the best thing I did. The opportunity to help one another turns out to be a gift in itself.

I set out to find an integrated role for an artist in a healthy community and I did so with very modest expectations that were simply blown away. I am amazed at what we have done as a community and what the project became. It succeeded far beyond my expectations.

Here are some of the things we accomplished together:
  • We got to know our neighbors. Strangers became familiar; familiar faces acquaintances; and acquaintances became friends.
  • Significantly many people who had never been to a gallery or seen themselves as participants in the arts came to the Bridge and did so again and again. This is a profound accomplishment.
  • We captured a library with thousands of images of people and places, creating a lasting record of a neighborhood in transition.
  • The community rallied around an exhibition of those familiar faces. An eighty page catalog preserves and expands on it like a community yearbook.
  • We gave away hundreds of prints from that library and thousands of postcards that now adorn fridges, window sills and cubicle walls.
  • We created this blog, with profiles celebrating the many of the wonderful people among us.
  • Preston and I staged four guerilla photo booths that engaged passers-by, with more to come.
  • We had a packed opening reception with locally donated beer, BBQ, nibbles and—most popularly—Spudnuts.
  • Speaking of Spudnuts, we screened a documentary that should be required viewing for all residents and we did it in a doughnut shop.
  • We toured an active and historic factory for the blind that plays a vital role in the community, yet is essentially hidden at the center of the neighborhood.
  • We convened a gathering of top community planners and learned much from them—and hopefully they learned a few things from the artists and residents in the room.
  • Three elementary school groups visited the show, with walking-tours past many of the sites where the images were captured.
  • An afternoon of rocking-chair storytelling brought long-timers and newer residents together to share reminiscences of how things were and how they have changed. Lulu recorded these oral histories so we can make them available to all.
  • A gathering of artists regrouped at the end of the exhibition to talk about our experiences and share new ways to animate our communities.
  • We attracted outrageously much media attention—more than I could keep track of. They were interested because positive stories about neighbors coming together inspire their listeners, viewers and readers.
  • We nudged several sidelined artists back into the game. I won’t name them publicly but that’s one of the bits of which I’m most proud.
  • You all inspired me and gave my own career quite a jolt.
  • Update (5/6): We had a very successful kickstarter campaign, receiving 65 contributions totaling $4,000. Perhaps more impressive than the financial amount, which exceeded most expectations, was the incredible moral support from the community and huge social-media response (165 Facebook likes).
Just reading this list is exhausting but as the exhibition draws to a close I feel exhilarated—the opposite of the usual let-down feeling. As I look toward the next project (still secret!), I know that this one is not over and never will be.

  • We will make available the oral histories as transcribed text and/or audio files on the web. 
  • We plan to create an audio itinerary, similar to what you find in museums. More on that soon.
  • We will make available the highlights of the image archive. Many of them are already here.
  • We will keep taking pictures, sharing our gifts with one another and keep getting to know our neighbors even better.
In the meantime, I say a big, hearty thank you to the many who have supported Monticello Road in so many ways. I could not be happier to share a community with you and to be your neighbor.

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