Community Supported Art shares come to Charlottesville

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Collage artist Terri Long (“Burned Heath Abstract” pictured) will contribute to The Bridge’s inaugural CSA. “We’ve been talking about other ideas about what we could do with these shares,” said Matthew Slaats. “I’ve asked the library, ‘what would it mean to give two of these shares to the library, and we could figure out a way that people could check them out?’” Collage artist Terri Long (“Burned Heath Abstract” pictured) will contribute to The Bridge’s inaugural CSA. “We’ve been talking about other ideas about what we could do with these shares,” said Matthew Slaats. “I’ve asked the library, ‘what would it mean to give two of these shares to the library, and we could figure out a way that people could check them out?’”

For years, people around the country have been participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), programs where locavores and the green-minded can subscribe to weekly shares of local produce. Now The Bridge PAI is launching its own CSA: Community Supported Art. “You already eat local; it’s about time you ART local!” is the slogan.

The program is based on a national model originated by Minneapolis’ Springboard for the Arts organization and is already used in over 20 cities. Fifty subscribers to The Bridge’s CSA buy a $200 share, which then goes to fund the work of four local artists, handpicked by a committee from a pool of over 45 applicants. The Bridge is hosting an event in November where the subscribers can meet the artists and see works in progress, and in December they receive a box containing completed work from all four.

“I think the biggest thing about that project is trying to lower the hurdle for people to collect art, to make it really accessible to people,” said The Bridge’s Director, Matthew Slaats. “It’s intimidating to walk into a gallery and just plop down $300 on a print of some sort. One of the hopes is that this program would sort of lower the barriers, and use this cultural model to get people excited about collecting art. There’s a bunch of them around the country that have been going on, so it’s exciting to see that here, and for us to be a part of it. And that’s something we’ll be doing every year, starting this year.”

The artists are sculptor and installation artist Aaron Fein, known for his long-running “White Flags” piece, which reproduces all the flags of the United Nations in white; spoken-word performer Bernard Hankins, host of the monthly Verbs & Vibes event (now relocated to The Bridge after a long tenure at Random Row Books); Terri Long, who makes collages and sculpture out of found objects (who recently had her wonderful Ex Ex Libris show at The Bridge in March), and illustrator Salena Hitzeman, a McGuffey Arts Center resident who makes accurate, evocative ink drawings from the natural world.

It remains to be seen precisely what these artists will produce for the CSA’s shareholders, but plans are already under way. In terms of how to translate Hankins’ work into a saleable object, Slaats explained, “We’ll be doing really unique events where the shareholders will get invited to a specific location, where he’ll be doing a performance for them. His work is very performative; it’s not enough, I think, to just have him write something down on a page and print it and give it to someone. We’ll do a series of short performances—you’ll get a text in the morning, show up at a certain site, and then we’ll record those, and edit them down, and give copies of them to the shareholders.”

According to Slaats the Bridge has sold 26 shares out of the 50. “We’re doing really well, and it’s only been three weeks,” he said.

For the buyer, it seems like a great way to meet and support local artists directly. But I was surprised when I saw the breakdown of the financial numbers for the project, in a copy of the budget that Slaats provided me. (It’s based on the model budget provided by Springboard for the Arts.) Only 40 percent of the $10,000 raised by selling 50 shares will go directly to the artists. The remaining 60 percent is retained by The Bridge, the majority of which goes towards operational and promotional costs for the CSA. Of the $4,000 budgeted for the artists, it will be divided four ways. And since each artist only receives half of their $1000 up front (the other half upon completion), that leaves them each with only a $500 budget to produce 50 pieces of art — which seems like a difficult arrangement for working artists.  One initially selected artist chose to withdraw upon realizing that the stipend being offered wasn’t sufficient enough to fund his proposal.

When I asked Slaats if he thought that budgeting arrangement would prevent artists from participating, he responded, “Yeah, totally. It’s kind of a limited program. There’s only so much we can give to the artists. We’re trying to cover the costs and promote them as much as possible. But one of the things we didn’t do a good job of upfront was telling the artists that they would get paid, and how much they would get paid.”

He’s already considered how to make the program better. “One idea for next year is that we’re going to switch it up, and have a higher price point, include eight artists, but lower the amount of production,” he said. “This year is a total experiment. We’re trying to figure out how this works in Charlottesville.”

Slaats feels that the program will go a long way in building goodwill within the art community. “This is also one way to make an effort to sort of rebuild the relationships with people, to rebuild some of the trust that’s eroded,” Slaats said. “For a long time, artists had been asked to give free work to the art auctions. This way, we can do it so that there is a stipend covering production and time.”

The meet-the-artist event is tentatively scheduled for early November. Shares are available through The Bridge’s website, by e-mail, phone, or in person at The Bridge. “I’m really looking forward to getting feedback at the end of the year, to hear how it all worked, and how good it felt for [the artists],” Slaats said.

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