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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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Garrett Street Mural is a Step Forward

The site chosen by the Tom Tom Founders Festival (the corner of Garrett and 6th Street in Charlottesville) for its City as Canvas mural project was already slated for a capstone expression in the Bridge PAI’s Play the City program. My initial reaction was to ask myself, “Doesn’t anyone talk to each other around here?” As I dug deeper and spent time with artist Mickael Broth and his project, I came to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter. We should just celebrate the mural, which is pretty cool and it's real.

The site was not just a blank wall—it’s at the heart of a major urban renewal project that effectively erased a neighborhood and replaced it with a new housing project, which is in its turn now the subject of intense speculation. Bitterness about the erasure of history cohabits the zone with nervous speculation about the future, along the historic 6th Street right-of-way and steps from multiple public housing complexes with many children. The location offered a tremendous opportunity for the community to work through some of its issues through the arts and make a strong statement with its own ideas about its specific dreams and desires. That’s an ambitious goal.

Meanwhile, the Tom Tom organizers saw an opportunity to make a mark of their own. They reached a private deal with the landowner (no public bodies needed to be consulted in this case) and they hired an artist from Richmond, essentially freezing out community discussion. The result would undoubtedly be livelier than the status quo, but perhaps a missed opportunity to have something more layered, in line with advanced contemporary thinking on public art.

There was a degree of fiefdom overlap and toe-stepping here and I could write a whole series of posts about Tom Tom’s very mixed history of collaboration/conflict with incumbent institutions but it is also fair and reasonable to posit that this part of Play the City might never have happened anyway. And it could still can in other places, other ways or even succeed the existing if an ever better vision comes forth.

All of that musing, however, fails to properly recognize the very real step forward Mickael’s mural represents. It is a very positive asset for the community, without any real downside.

Just this little section outplays the entire mural down the street depicting a universal hand-hold. And there's alot more than this.

The piece goes way beyond the idea of simply adding a splash of color to an otherwise dreary spot, although it does that too. It speaks of dreams, frustration, mobility, technology, plants and animals—there’s a lot going on. And while it does not specifically address that site or its history, it talks about universal human issues that everyone who sees it can relate to. Significantly, it does so boldly and with a specific point of view.

Rather than giving a history lesson or a manifesto, this new painting aims to enliven, enrich and inspire. It does those things, as art should, and people like it. I suppose it could be possible to create a masterpiece that synthesizes past, present and future but public art that accomplishes that is extremely rare.

I’m so glad I got past my initial snark and got to know Mickael and his work. He’s the real deal and he’s made a very good contribution.

1 comment:

Pete A said...

Fair, honest and wonderfully expressed. No matter how you slice it this mural IS a step forward in the conversation around community engagement and public art.