Community-supported agriculture, in which consumers invest money or time in local farms and take their dividends in the form of weekly shares of the harvest, is already a familiar model in Philadelphia. But can art work the same way?
The new Community Supported Art (CSA) program, partially funded by a Knight Foundation grant and based on a successful, now-national model started in St. Paul, Minn., is giving it a try. The program allows would-be collectors to directly support local artists by purchasing one of 50 “shares” — 70 percent of which goes to the artists — then picking up new works by nine local artists at events over the next several months.
There are two tracks to the program: The first, with shares of $350, is presented by the Philadelphia Folklore Project and focuses on contemporary crafts. The second, with shares of $450, is for work by contemporary artists selected by the gallery collectives Grizzly Grizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid; the nine pieces of work subscribers will get over three pick-up events run the gamut from jewelry and ceramics to sound art and site-specific installations.
At first glance, the program seems like an unlikely fit for sculptor and installation artist Linda Yun, whose quiet, extraordinary installations have been highlights at Vox Populi for several years, but don’t seem like they’d translate easily to private homes. In Lull (2010), for example, viewers entered a darkened room to be greeted by a softly glowing pink square — a painting? No, a false wall cut away to reveal the real wall, softly illuminated. And in It Is What It Is (2009), she managed to invoke another place using nothing but a Mylar party banner, holiday lights and a house fan.
But the opportunity to exit the gallery is part of what appealed to Yun about the project. “I could install a show in a gallery, and people could choose to interact with it for a minute or two,” she says, “but I liked the idea that people will bring these objects home and live with them. I wanted my piece to be an object or a moment that the collector can continuously revisit.”
Yun’s pieces for CSA are smaller-scale, inspired by kintsugi, a Japanese technique of mending broken pottery with gold. The form’s essential idea of remaking something broken into something beautiful could be a “reminder for the owner about the beauty of a difficult time,” says Yun. She’ll personally install her pieces in shareholders’ spaces, and that interaction with the collector in his or her home is another thing that appealed to her.
Grizzly Grizzly member and CSA planner Mary Smull sees the model as a much-needed deviation from the commercial gallery model, where, she says, art is “valued like a commodity — like oil or soybeans.” Treating the process as more of a cooperative, she says, is “a different way of looking at the value of an artist’s time versus product.” She and fellow Grizzly Grizzly member and coordinator Jacque Liu also see it as a valuable way for artists to interact with the community. The public pickup events in October, December and January will also function as exhibitions, letting artists and collectors meet each other and leaving the social function of the gallery intact.
Jacob Feige, a sound artist and painter participating in the CSA who’s hand-painting album covers for each of the vinyl records containing his audio project, says this model breaks down the boundary between artist and collector, and makes art available to a wider audience. “I wanted something for people who couldn’t afford a painting. This whole project is about making art more accessible.”
Feige’s pieces for CSA are inspired by an abandoned piano in an old house — the audio portion of his piece will be based on the piano and historical data from the house’s original owners. Feige says he’ll be happy if shareholders treat his work as an art object or a record — or both.
Liu says he’s been pleasantly surprised by the wide range of folks who’ve bought shares. “It points to a whole crop of people who are not super rich but who actively like art; they just don’t know how to get to it.”