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Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.


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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Monticello Road: Gateless Community

 
I'm not naive: I've lived in some very divided communities and Charlottesville is far from perfect, but there is an engagement here--a real effort to work it out.

I just read a terrific op-ed piece in the New York Times about gated communities and what they do to our ability to trust one another and the tragic effects that can bring. Right away I was reminded why this project is so important.

Basically, the column says that in their fear of outsiders (and the question of who is really an outsider is impossibly twisted), people in gated communities sequester themselves ever more radically in a feedback loop of paranoia. By putting themselves in a place where they only see members of their own tribe, outsiders seem more and more terrifying--and the world is full of outsiders, isn't it?

Monticello Road is the opposite of a gated community (though it has not always been thus and who knows what the future will bring).  I'm not sure how it got this way--that will be a question for our Community Planning panel--but it is a zone where folks do interact in a way that is civil and often much better than that.

My front yard has a fence (the previous owners had dogs) but we tore down the gate and kids in the playground across the street often use our bathroom. Out on the street, you're likely to run into someone dressed like the Elvis or to meet a man named James Brown who is not the king of soul but the city Sheriff and an active parent. Folks of all ages and many ethnicities intermingle and the results are not always pretty but we are all engaged in working it out.

No one but Jesus asks us to absolutely love everyone we meet but there needs to be respect and acceptance: two sides of the same coin. And there's quite a bit of love as well, a currency that is built by sharing--not by burying it in the backyard. This project is about overcoming obstacles and sharing social capital.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The People of Monticello Road: Mas

If Clark is where you find the brains of Monticello Road, its palate is at Mas.

I had wanted to photograph there for some time, and had sent postcards and emails but I was too shy to ask directly. Eventually, it was getting silly: Mas had to be in the project because they are a very major piece of the neighborhood and the project would lack legitimacy without them.

So I plucked up some courage, went in and asked. It turns out that Tomas is surprisingly shy too for one so accomplished and he didn’t want the camera probing around, which is not an uncommon or unreasonable position. I told him I understood and sought the sympathy of a glass of Rioja at the bar, which he offered.

When I stopped on the way out to thank Tomas for the wine he said, “You know, there might be a way,” and invited me to Mas’ ninth anniversary party.

It turned out to be full of neighborhood movers-and-shakers and global foodies. I met writers, dentists, actors, chefs, architects, filmmakers and I got to know the staff a little bit—a hard-working and spirited bunch.

Not only is the place usually full of great food and interesting people, but there is an atmosphere of love and generosity that originates with the owner himself. Mas is as much about heart as it is about eating and drinking.

Going there was the perfect way to complete photography for the book (although there will always be more to add) and to move on to the next stage of the project.


 Mas Tapas is located at 501 Monticello Road, Charlottesville, VA, open monday–saturday 5:30pm  until 1am (no reservations). For more info, please call 434–979–0990.

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 opening April 6. [Details]
 
More Profiles | Project Description | More Photos: Places | People | Photo Booth I | Photo Booth II | Photo Booth III

Monday, March 5, 2012

The People of Monticello Road: Michael the Mystery Man

Michael stopped by our second photo booth but he took off before we could get his name.

I wanted to include his photo in the book--how could I not? So we had to track him down to get his name for the caption and the search turned out to be quite illustrative.

I started by talking to local merchants and showing his picture around.

"Oh yeah--I know that guy," was a common response. "I don't know his name but I see him every day."

I put up signs that read, "Do you know this man?" without response.

Last Friday night during open studio hours at McGuffey, as people  looked at the "Faces of Monticello Road" wall of my studio, I received a vital clue.

Some folks from the neighborhood remarked that the plastic bag he always carries is from Kroger, and that he must walk to work there every day.

[Quick aside: It should be noted that Kroger is three or more miles from Belmont and his daily six-mile rain-or-shine round-trip hike is a seriously manly commitment to job, environment, fitness or whatever his reason.]

I went to Kroger the next day and asked the manager if he works there and right away, they said he does, provided an identification, and confirmed the hypothesis.

Problem solved through collective deduction. This project has shown me that the answers to many questions lay hidden (and sometimes in pieces) within a community. Persistent engagement is the key to putting them together.



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 opening April 6. [Details]
 
More Profiles | Project Description | More Photos: Places | People | Photo Booth I | Photo Booth II | Photo Booth III