This winter, the New City Arts Initiative will host the first in a quarterly series of public dinners that double as a forum for funding the work of local artists. Entitled SOUP, the events provide curious diners with the opportunity to support the arts, thanks to the efforts of Victoria Long, Maureen Lovett and Brooke Ray. For a mere $10, arts patrons will be treated to a bowl of soup, salad, bread, and pie, while entertaining project proposals from a handful of local artists. At the end of the dinner, a democratic vote will determine which project will be funded by the dinner’s proceeds.
“What I like about it is that it’s super accessible to people, because it’s only 10 bucks,” said Ray. “I always want to support things that people are doing in Charlottesville, but I don’t have a million dollars to spend. So the idea that just about anybody could afford to come to this, that really excited me. And [artists] who don’t necessarily have the time or the energy or the skills or the info to find funding in other places, they can find support.”
“It’s not just about giving them the dollar amount,” said Maureen Lovett, executive director of New City Arts. “The dinner itself is an environment in which everyone comes together around a table to support the artist… Everyone’s participating in a hands-on way, it doesn’t feel like the traditional grant giving experience.”
“The meal provides the space for people to have a dialogue,” Long said. “It’s a space for people to come together and engage with each other about what’s needed in the community. That’s why the meal aspect of the event is important. The ingredients we use, the location, all of it. It needs to be thoughtful, in order to foster a dialogue that’s thoughtful.”
SOUP was inspired by a Detroit-based event, created in 2009 by Kate Daughdrill, former Charlottesville resident and founder of The Garage. “Kate has really functioned as an advisor for us,” said Long. “Even though the model of SOUP is happening around the country, Detroit SOUP was really our inspiration. They’ve been extremely successful. They’ve recently received a lot of grant money, not just to spread the program in other cities, but to replicate it in every neighborhood in Detroit.”
“We’ve got some different community members who are basically donating the food for the evening,” said Ray. “Shell [Stern] is baking all of the bread for the event. Cathy Zentgraf from Greenies—she’s a great cook. We’ve got about a half a dozen people who are baking pie. There are folks that are donating local greens for the event as well. All of the money for the dinner goes toward the creative project.”
For SOUP’s founders, the commitment to the local community extends to every aspect of the project. “We’ll definitely be using local produce,” Ray said. “For the first one, we’ll certainly be seeking local apples, local potatoes, there’s a couple of different kinds of stew… We’d love to make the best of what ingredients are available to us. In January, that’s a little bit harder, but it’s not impossible. And as the season changes we’ll be including spring greens, and all kinds of things.”
“We really wanted it to be a community effort,” Long said. “The bowls were all made here, they had a bowl-making marathon over at City Clay. They’re all really beautiful, each one’s a bit different. They donated the clay, the time, they showed up on a Sunday night and stayed until it was late. It was really awesome.”
“It’s a way of leveraging community support to cover the overhead expenses,” Ray said. “This way we don’t have to rent dishes, or buy disposables. It adds another handmade element. I’m interested in getting as many creative people involved as I can, so that each dinner has its own fingerprint. And we’re continually looking for spaces [for future events], accessible ones that people can get to.”
“We’re definitely going to play around with location,” Long said. “We’re thinking of something outdoors for the summer. We don’t have a plan past this year; the idea is just to try it out, as a seasonal event.”
“I love that there are all these wonderful farm dinners going on it, but local food and seasonal food can be really grounded, too,” Ray said. “There’s a lot of people out there who know how to make a good meal. You don’t have to be a chef to make a good meal.”
“It’s something that’s really exciting for us,” Lovett said. “It’s always been in our vision to give grants directly to artists. It’s great that we’ve been able to partner with so many other organizations, and that’s the only way we would want to do this, to make it about coming together to make this work, to support Charlottesville artists.”
SOUP begins at 6:30pm on Monday, January 14 at The Bridge PAI. No reservations are needed, and no advance tickets are necessary, although attendees are asked to bring their $10 in cash. More information is available at charlottesvillesoup.com.
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