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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Monday, December 16, 2013

Catching Up with the Santa of Mountain View

You have to be a pretty cool character to be profiled twice on this blog. North Pole cold, in fact!

We stopped by Mountainview Street to check in with Jeff Norford and the Santa of Mountainview. They will be included in the forthcoming cell phone audio tour. Their open-handed generosity and considerable commitment of time and money [not to mention their wackiness] exemplify the spirit that creates great communities.

They always get alot of well-justified press and they were recently interviewed in the C-Ville Weekly. I chose to avoid the inevitable questions about the electric bill.

Here's our conversation. The audio version will be ready soon.

Monticello Road: How’s it going this year? Is it exciting?

Norford: Yeah, it’s great. Every year it gets better and better. We have more and more people show up.

MR: How far do people come from? Is everyone local?

Norford: All over the world. We have people come from all over.

Santa: Well last year we had them come from about 2 countries. This year so far it’s been about four or five.

Norford: We had a lady from England, I know of, then some from Africa. From Thailand, China. From Japan. All over.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Where's the Art Version of Streetball?

The book I’m reading, Arts Inc. by Bill Ivey (former head of the NEA) is full of provocative and smart ideas but one quote made me throw the book in the air and start clapping. It’s spot-on accurate but I really love it because it makes an explicit connection that I’m always reaching for between my two twin interests: art and running. Furthermore he states explicitly what I’m always preaching: that art organizations should study sports marketing and especially those groups working on the grassroots—like, my employer, New YorkRoad Runners. They are doing a better job of changing lives than anyone in the arts and there are specific reasons why. Here’s Bill's blurb:
We first need to reframe our connection to art-making to match the way we think of athletics and exercise. In the world of museums, symphony orchestras, and dance companies, “participation” today means “attendance”; we’re participating in art when we buy a ticket to an exhibition or plant ourselves in a seat at a Mozart festival. In the world of sports we also participate by purchasing tickets and attending competitions, sometimes alongside thousands of fellow fans. But real sports activity is spread throughout the population; for those who don’t play tennis or golf or participate in an amateur softball league, society offers plenty of encouragement to exercise—even if it’s just a long, brisk walk three or four times a week. Our relationship with amateur sport seems healthy and rounded; we are accepting of wide disparities in talent and generous to those who can only take part in limited ways: we applaud the ten-minute miler just as vigorously as the sub-four champion. “Participation”, in sports and exercise means just what it says, doing. And, as a bonus, broad participation produces knowledgeable, enthusiastic audiences who support substantial compensation for thousands of professional athletes.

In contrast, most Americans are almost afraid to make art casually; there’s no longer an equivalent, in music, dance, drama, or drawing to the pickup touch football game on the back lawn on a Sunday afternoon. If we’re going to make art, it’s got to be serious business and the result has to be good. As Kimmelman observes, “Amateur equates to amateurish.” My friends in classical music talk with envy about European opera or symphony performances at which innovative or controversial performances once produced audience outrage and near-riots—people over there really care! Of course American enthusiasts are just wishing for the kind of audiences we find today at U.S. sporting events. To reach such a point we need to reconfigure the hierarchical pyramid that today is geared toward elevating only the best.[1]
Bill actually doesn’t go far enough. Sports programs that are well done create a virtuous cycle of health and fitness and that cycle is self-powered. He cites running, an industry I understand extremely well. Here’s how it works at the most macro level:
  1. Small groups gather informally at the amateur level to train or play. They are very welcoming.
  2. They work alongside one another pushing their own limits and each-others’ in a mutually supportive environment.
  3. Some few rise to such prominence that others want to come out and see them.
  4. Those performances inspire others (of all abilities) to run alongside them.
  5. People of all ages get out there and try to better themselves literally one step at a time.
  6. Here’s the cool part: others, including (and especially) the professionals see those kids, old folks and couch potatoes moving and they are hugely inspired.
  7. Repeat, only in larger numbers…
Of course, the analogy has limits. Running does not produce a very large cadre of people earning a living that way. It may seem impossible, but the odds of “making it” as a performer are even less for a runner than as an artist. Running is quirky that way. But the endeavor attracts breathtakingly many committed practitioners. Imagine what America would be like if as much time, and numbers, were devoted to actively exercising our souls as we do at the gym, trail or park. I suspect that many things would change.

The positive trends in health and fitness are exactly that: positive; so no one would advocate staying in a room (or a studio) at the expense of going for a run. Yet, the time and energy needs to come from someplace and I suspect the book will go on to advocate that we make time and money for informal, spontaneous art by refraining from so much consumerism and passive entertainment.

He’s interested in finding a way to get everyone involved and inspired and to feel empowered to do so at whatever level makes sense. That’s what we’re trying to do too.

1. Ivey, Bill. Arts Inc: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyedour Cultural Rights. University of California Press, 2008 pp. 118-119. Reprinted without permission. Since Bill devoted  about 50 pages prior to that quote arguing that fair use is essential for a thriving democracy, I will take my chances…

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Monticello Road Audio Tour: Downtown Belmont

For the latest stop on the audio tour, we spoke with Greg Jackson, architect and neighborhood president, about "Downtown Belmont" and what makes it so special. There are about 45 minutes of great recording, which we may share some time, but for the audio tour, we've distilled three short segments.

In the first clip, Greg describes Downtown Belmont. For out-of-town visitors, "Downtown Belmont" is an area where Monticello Road passes, oblique through the grid and creates a series of corners that yields a small but thriving commercial district in the midst of a residential neighborhood. This phenomenon has continued for nearly a century and its current incarnation is anchored by several independent restaurants, several of which are internationally acclaimed.

Next, he talks about pedestrian-friendly neighborhood commercial districts, and why mixed use--if carefully done--can be a huge benefit and attraction:

Finally, he talks about the origins of the new sidewalk enhancements, and what they can do for the area:

The Monticello Road Audio Tour is an extension of the Charlottesville Audio Tour in cooperation with Charlottesville Historic Resources and Preservation. Special thanks to Amanda Henry for transcribing the interview. Monticello Road is an art/community project in Charlottesville Virginia.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Inspiration: Chalkville

Monticello Road is an in-depth exploration of one street in Charlottesville, VA. It asks how art can be a key, everyday part of a healthy and vibrant community. This blog normally focuses, as it should, on the people and places in that neighborhood but it also occasionally presents related examples and inspirations from elsewhere.

Elinor Slomba is an artist/organizer/agent/angel and a lifetime collaborator and friend of mine. I caught up with Elinor as she was catching her breath after the completion of Chalkville, a monumental chalk drawing on a high school parking lot in West Haven, CT and an excellent example of art-centric community organizing.

Tell us about Chalkville. What was it about and how did it go?

Elinor: Chalkville was a Guinness-approved world record attempt for Largest Chalk Pavement Art. The record we had to beat was 90,000 square feet of one unified chalk drawing, set by Mark Wagner of Alameda, California. After I got the idea this might be a good civic art project, we got seed funding from the Awesome Foundation, Connecticut Chapter. They give $1,000 grants to individuals for creative projects that benefit communities. That was enough for a little less than half of the chalk, but it enabled us to begin saying "we have funding for this." It wasn't just a crazy idea, we were certified Awesome!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monticello Road Audio Tour: Lazy Daisy

Lazy Daisy Ceramics was one of the first businesses I discovered when I arrived on Monticello Road. When I told Sonny and Novella about my project, they were quick to help. Sonny has been in the neighborhood in various capacities all his life and Novella has ever since the business moved here in the seventies. Both have seen a lot and are master storytellers.

It was impossible to distill even the highlights of our conversation into my 120 second limit, so I broke the narration into two segments. In the first, Sonny talks about the neighborhood and the history of his building.

In the second segment, Novella talks about the business and how it has changed.

The Monticello Road Audio Tour is an extension of the Charlottesville Audio Tour in cooperation with Charlottesville Historic Resources and Preservation. Special thanks to Tara at Lazy Daisy for arranging the interview. Monticello Road is an art/community project in Charlottesville Virginia.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

StoryLine 2013

This is the fourth year I’ve worked on StoryLine, the fifth year of its existence. It’s never the same and it’s always good.

This year’s theme was transit: how people and things get around. We spent three days in July with 30 Charlottesville Parks and Rec summer campers (ages 10-14) and a phenomenal team of volunteers exploring three distinct modes of transit: water, bikes and busses and on the fourth day, the kids made a huge chalk mural about it on the Free Expression Wall.

StoryLine invites the youngsters to explore and discover their worlds and use that as fuel for art-making. The Constitution guarantees the right to express oneself, but whence the willingness to do so? What should they say and why?

We’re teaching kids to make connections between their own experiences and the wider world and encouraging them to speak their perspectives. It’s not only a visual expression, although the Free Expression mural is a very visible testament. This year, we included a group of poets and rappers and they really invigorated the experience.

The kids instantly responded to the spoken verse for a variety of reasons. The language and rhythm of Hip Hop feels familiar but they also come from a deeply verbal culture, much more so than visual. So when we asked kids to draw about their observations, they were hesitant—and that’s ok; it’s why we have artist mentors. But when we asked them to rhyme their observations, our jaws all dropped at the adolescents’ fluency. It was amazing.

Words disappear into the air and sky and the drawing did not last the day, as afternoon showers washed the chalkboard clean. Although nothing endures forever, some things have a lasting impact. I hope StoryLine triggers something in the kids. It has certainly changed my life.

Story|line is a collaboration between the Piedmont Council of the Arts, the Bridge, Charlottesville Parks and Recreation, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, Siteworks Studio and many, many volunteers.

Learn More about StoryLine:
Web Site | Exhibition Info | Photos | Media Preview | Media Recap | Blog Thread


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Monticello Road Audio Tour: VA Industries for the Blind

Virginia Industries for the Blind is one of the oldest and most important enterprises along Monticello Road. It's quiet exterior hides a hive of activity and gives no sense of the fascinating people who work there. The latest installment in our audio tour goes behind the scenes to meet some of them. [Listen to Clip | Read Profile]

VIB has been a early and enthusiastic supporter of the Monticello Road Project. I would like to thank James, Peggy, Preston, Jeff, William and all the staff there who have been so welcoming. If Clark has the brains of Monticello Road, VIB is the heart.

The Monticello Road Audio Tour is an extension of the Charlottesville Audio Tour in cooperation with Charlottesville Historic Resources and Preservation. Special thanks to Jim Meehan for narrating this clip. Monticello Road is an art/community project in Charlottesville Virginia.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Monticello Road Audio Tour: Old Belmont Bridge

The Belmont Bridge is the gateway that unites Belmont with downtown Charlottesville. It's the beginning of Monticello Road. In the previous entry in this thread, we heard about Monticello Road's opposite [truncated] end, out past the edge of town. Here we get close to the heart of town and this will be the logical first stop in the cell phone audio tour.

The audio tour will eventually have ten stops (some with multiple narrations).

For now, enjoy this one, in which Preston Coiner, Diane Graves and Rosie Breedin remember the old Belmont Bridge, as it existed when they were kids. It was a gateway for them too. Big thanks to Pete O'Shea for his opening narration.

The Monticello Road Audio Tour is an extension of the Charlottesville Audio Tour in cooperation with Charlottesville Historic Resources and Preservation. Special thanks to Chris Gensic for narrating this clip. Monticello Road is an art/community project in Charlottesville Virginia.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Block Party, Street Fest, Monticello Road Celebration

Pantheon Popshop was one of many local businesses sharing the love at the block party. [More Photos]

The Tom Tom Fest closing party at the Bridge was alot of fun. There was live music (WTJU broadcasted live all day), food, drinks and alot of fun.

We set up one of our pop-up photo booths and gave away dozens of on-the-spot prints. As I explained the project to people, they instantly understood and we were no longer strangers.

There was lots of great sharing, as I received gifts of burgers, fries and beer, but the best one was cameraderie. The party might have been a one-time thing, but it was a good one and a terriffic way to celebrate the project's anniversary.

It was wonderful to see so many people come together with the simple purpose of celebrating one another.

View Photos

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Celebrate Monticello Road at Tom Tom

A year after the main Monticello Road events, we're still celebrating the community. On Sunday, April 14, we're joining the Tom Tom Founders Fest Closing Party, which is taking place at the Bridge PAI--right back where we started.

We'll do another Pop-up Photo Booth, record stories for the Cell Phone Audio Tour, and if the space is available we'll show the Community Slide Show. We'll have books for sale as well.

The block party starts at 2:00 p.m. and runs until 9:00. We'll be there sometime in the afternoon and into the evening. Stop by, get your picture taken (and a free print), record your impressions, and help us celebrate our wonderful community!

Volunteers/collaborators are needed for the photo booth. Contact me if you can help.

The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative is located at 209 Monticello Road, across from Sputnuts.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Glad I Photographed Those Old Houses!

Accomack, VA 2011. This was a controlled burn, which is now illegal. [more photos]

Please permit a quick detour from Monticello Road to the Virginia Eastern Shore.

Many readers know about my other project—Succession—in which I photograph human spaces being reclaimed by nature. I’ve taken many pictures along US 13 in Accomack County, an area rich in abandoned buildings and farmsteads.

Something strange and bad is happening over there.

A string of arsons (more than 70 since November) have targeted abandoned buildings and have been done in a highly sophisticated manner, studiously avoiding both detection and human (or animal!) injury. Naturally, speculation about the arsonist(s)—and it’s almost certainly a team—and their motives, is rampant.

People seem to think that it must be some group of trouble-makers, anarchists, revenge-seekers or pychos and fear is taking hold. That’s a natural response to fire.

I haven’t heard anyone ask an obvious question though: who benefits by eliminating traces of old family farms? Most arson cases are related to insurance fraud but for that to be the case here would require an entire community-wide conspiracy, which though fascinating from a sociological perspective, would be highly unlikely. Big poultry, which dominates both landscape and economy seems a more likely candidate.

Perhaps it’s the manifestation of dark desperation, like the monster that emerges from the lake in that Police Song.

It’s certainly a sign that something bad is happening in that community’s soul and whatever the motivation, the effect is sad. Many people are afraid and an already-poor county is forced to divert limited resources to try to protect lives and property. Beyond the financial losses (some of which are heartbreaking) it’s a troubling erasure of past lives. Everything changes and if the arsonist hadn’t taken those buildings, Nature most likely would have. But this feels different: vicious in ways we've seen too many times before.

At any rate I’m glad I stopped and documented some of those tumbledown dreams before they were wiped away. Although I have a renewed urgency I’ll certainly be careful about creeping around those places in the future, lest I be collared on suspicion of pyromania!

Photo Gallery with Accomack Pics | More Succession Photos
Good Summary Story (Weird end-times header notwithstanding)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Monticello Road Audio Tour: Ghost Road Stop

The Monticello Road cell phone audio tour will provide visitors and residents with a deeper experience and appreciation of one of America's most interesting neighborhoods.

It will consist of a series of nine narrated tour stops along the length of Monticello Road, each with a sign including a phone number and/or a QR code that will call audio narrations about the sites in the voices of the local people. If all goes according to plan, geolocation will also be available.

The project is expected to be ready this summer, at which time we'll produce a map and a series of public events.

For now, take a listen to Stop #9, which explores the historic extension of the road, past its dead end at Moore's Creek.

The Monticello Road Audio Tour is an extension of the Charlottesville Audio Tour in cooperation with Charlottesville Historic Resources and Preservation. Special thanks to Chris Gensic for narrating this clip. Monticello Road is an art/community project in Charlottesville Virginia.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Monticello Road Extended: Ghost Road

Like an appendix, about a mile of historic Monticello Road still exists, cut off by the Interstate, isolated and now disused. An artifact from the past, it looks like it could have an exciting future. Check back soon for a full photo gallery.

Monticello Road was once a primary entrance to Charlottesville but it was truncated when Interstate 64 was built and replaced by nearby Monticello Avenue in the Sixties. What’s left is the quiet neighborhood street it is today.

I’ve always wondered what traces of the old Monticello Road exist on the other side of the Interstate, out into the country. I’ve crawled through culverts and fought through brambles but never found anything definitive.

A lucky break came when I called Chris Gensic, trails coordinator for Charlottesville for assistance with the cellphone audio tour [more on that soon]. He had an answer and was willing to show me. He also has a plan.

Old Monticello Road crossed Moore’s Creek at its present terminus (bridge abutments still visible), followed the creek for a short ways, then wound through the hills up to the current site of Michie Tavern (it was originally located in Earlysville) then joined VA-53, the current route up to Monticello. In between still exists about a mile of ghost road, completely abandoned and covered with leaves but largely intact. A kick in the leaves reveals a solid yellow line.

Along the way, the road passes through a spectacular successionary ecosystem, largely protected from human intrusion by its very cut-off state. So cut off, in fact, that major trespassing (or acquiring owners' permission as we did) is required to go there.

Interstate builders straightened and rerouted Moore’s Creek to its north flank and diked off an oxbow that is still filled with water and that hosts seasonal waterfowl. There’s a rich and varied understory with particularly abundant ironwood beneath a canopy of mature sycamores and oaks. Archeological traces abound. I can’t wait to revisit the place in the Spring.

If Chris gets his way, we will all get to go there soon. He has an ambitious but surprisingly feasible plan to reconnect with the historic right of way by bridging Moore’s Creek and boring a tunnel under I-64, sweeping the leaves off the old roadway and connecting with the Saunders-Monticello trail, yielding a family/tourist-friendly pathway all the way to Monticello.

This will be a boon for residents and visitors alike and will make available a real treasure for all. In the meantime, it’s a neat little tract: hidden and cut off from both place and time.

Edit to add (2/1):

This came from amazing archeologist/naturalist Devin Floyd, who accompanied the walk. So great to walk those woods with people who really knew what they were seeing:

"Peter, you might add spicebush and pawpaw to the understory species list you describe, as they were the dominant woody plants, and important indicators of ecosystem health. You might also add poplar and ash to the overstory descript., as they are the dominant species in the overstory.

The road does pass through a spectacular and varied display of forest succession. There are also remnant trees, echoes of fields and open spaces long ago abandoned (that's what those biggest trees represent).

Friday, January 4, 2013

Succession 2013

This picture, which depicts the historic traces of Monticello Road that extend into the country is part of both Monticello Road and Succession series.

I am exhibiting eighteen photographs from my Succession series at Milli Joe (Charlottesville) January 4-31, 2013. These pictures explore nearby human spaces that Nature has begun to reclaim.

There will be a opening kaffeeklatch from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 5, with a second one Tuesday, January 15 from 7:30 to 10 a.m.

Every artist has a second, secret, project and this is mine. If Monticello Road is about the human interconnections in a healthy community, Succession pokes around the poison ivy, cicadas and woodlots around the edges of the neighborhood.

Milli Joe is located at the corner of Preston and Ridge/McIntire in Charlottesville. Parking available next door. For more information please call 434-465-9869.