This post is part of a continued series distinguishing individuals and groups by presenting a DaVinci award or a Velvet Elvis award for their role in promoting Charlottesville as the "cultural and creative capital of Central Virginia".
As touted on the city’s website, Charlottesville anoints itself as the "arts, entertainment and cultural center of Central Virginia." And, invariably, we have all heard what a great arts community Charlottesville is. Heck, little ‘ol C’ville advertises itself as such and lures tourists with promises of the best the arts has to offer. Too bad the city keeps letting opportunities to actually advance the visual arts and really make this town an arts destination slip through their fingers.
For this, I give Charlottesville’s City Council a big, fat Velvet Elvis award. A Bronx cheer goes to Dave Norris, Julian Taliaferro, Holly Edwards, Satyendra Huja and Dave Brown.
I have a question for you: Have you ever heard of Charlottesville’s "Percent For Art" program? Like a good number of major cities in this country (New York City being one of them), the city is supposed to allocate 1% of the budget of every public building project to the arts. In theory, when a new building goes up, new art should go up too. Bet you didn’t know that. And, I bet you didn’t know that because you haven’t seen any new public art going up associated with the huge amount of building that this city has experienced over the past 10 years.
Now, here comes a whopper of a public building project right down Main Street: the hotly debated re-bricking of the historic Downtown Mall. In short, we’re spending $7.5 million to tear up perfectly good bricks (and toss them in a landfill) and replacing them with fresh new bricks. The City Council gave this project its unanimous approval. Hard to believe it was unanimous after hearing a couple of Councilors express their "grave concerns" regarding the project (are you listening Holly Edwards?). And, I’m still struggling with the concept of how much physical waste this will create - oh, yes, C’ville considers itself an innovative "green" city too.
Let me get back on track here… Despite my (and many other’s) pessimistic feelings about the re-bricking, what made me let out a yelp was noting how the $7.5 million dollar public project does not include any artwork. At a minimum, Percent For Art should allow for $75,000 in the budget for art. Instead, any inclusion of outdoor art and/or sculpture was zapped from the budget and architectural plans. The reasoning behind this exclusion… Apparently, the City Councilors believed that art would clutter the Downtown Mall. Say what?!?! Art is clutter! Thanks guys. You could have made a positive statement here, but instead, you have approved $7.5 million for the Downtown Mall to be zambonied and stripped of any artistic life. Now it looks like we will be subjected to three more decades of innocuous, cast iron silhouettes as our sole slice of art on the Downtown Mall. A golden opportunity for prime public art has slipped through the City Council’s fingers.
There is a lot of talk about what a great city Charlottesville is. Much of this talk is based on its cultural resources. Until its elected leadership begins to show more interest in promoting visual art that isn’t made of red brick and white columns, I give the five City Council members a Velvet Elvis.
SCORECARD, thus far:
DaVinci – Beryl Solla
Velvet Elvis – University of Virginia Art Museum
DaVinci – Elizabeth Breeden