Forward-looking organizers have turned to thinking inside the box for a new way to promote visual artists. Some of the artists, meanwhile, are thinking outside the box to produce 50 small works each.
Modeled after community-supported agriculture programs in which participants buy shares in a farm and later receive boxes of produce, community-supported arts initiatives have sprouted on both sides of the river. C·S·Arts Cincinnati, a volunteer effort led by Jared Queen, and the Community Supported Arts program at the Carnegie in Covington, Ky., led by exhibitions director Matt Distel, have each brought together nine artists with 50 collectors. The organizations asked those interested in supporting community arts to purchase “shares” in their CSAs for $350 each in return for “farm boxes” featuring nine pieces of locally produced art. C·S·Arts Cincinnati hosts its first of three pick-up parties Friday, while the Carnegie is wrapping up the first week of its shareholder sales.
Food CSAs began in the 1980s; the art version began in 2009 in Minneapolis via its Springboard for the Arts program. The purpose is to introduce creatives to collectors interested in meeting and supporting local up-and-comers, rather than buying anonymous works of art at chain stores. Queen and Distel consulted Springboard for the Arts for tips on how to bring the artists (who receive a stipend — $1,000 from the Carnegie, $1,200 from C·S·Arts) together with collectors.
Queen and Distel conceived their programs independently last fall, both inspired by a New York Times story. Queen’s first thought when he heard of the effort by his friend at the Carnegie was defeat. But Queen, special events manager at Cincinnati Ballet, soon rebuilt his confidence.
“We’re talking about 100 people,” he says, referring to 50 shareholders for each CSA. “In an arts-loving region, I thought, ‘This is not only possible, it’s very possible.’”
Distel agrees that there can’t be too many options for people to buy local. “They should buy Secret ArtWorks [the fundraiser featuring 5-by-7-inch works] and C·S·Arts Cincinnati and local galleries and buy this [at the Carnegie], too.”
The shares for C·S·Arts Cincinnati sold out April 22.
Well before then, the organizers decided to schedule a second season with nine more artists for October through December. Those sales are under way.
The first-season C·S·Arts participants are David Armacost, Brian Burt, Pam Kravetz, Kristy Kemper, Brett Schieszer, Kara Sheldon, Susan Byrnes, Cole Carothers and Tyler Hamilton.
Carnegie artists are Antonio Adams, Keith Benjamin, Carmel Buckley, Barbara Houghton, Casey Riordan Millard, Marcia Shortt, spouses Michael Stillion and Katie Labmeier, Chris Vorhees and Joseph Winterhalter.
The artists in C·S·Arts were selected by four jurors, including Art Academy professor Kim Krause and Weston Art Gallery director Dennis Harrington. Distel handpicked his. Each pool represents a range of media, experience and backgrounds.
Millard, known for her “Shark Girl” images and sculptures, is having fun picturing her icon in what she calls “a toy box full of art.” She’s excited about the chance to do a project with many of her artist friends. “I’ve shown with a number of them before,” she says. “This is a mini-show in a box.”
Millard says there is warmth among Cincinnati artists that was missing in Chicago, her former home. “There’s such a huge, build-your-own art community here,” she says. “There’s so much momentum. And it’s projects like this that drive it.”
Stillion and Labmeier also like the cooperation. Stillion will be responding to his wife’s cross-stitch with his paper collages as they mix and match their styles 50 times. “I might have nubs for fingers at the end,” he says.
Queen says C·S·Arts was blown away by the 89 artist proposals it received. He acknowledges that receiving $1,200 to produce 50 works isn’t for everyone. So he’s thrilled to have established names such as Kravetz (BombShells of Cincinnati), Carothers (2013’s Cincinnati Everyday at the Cincinnati Art Museum) and Frank Herrmann. Herrmann, whose career dates back to the late 1960s, joins fall participants Chelsea Borgman and Justin West, David Buetsche, Cynthia Gregory, Diana Duncan Holmes, Gail Lundgren, Andrew Neyer, Anna Ogier-Bloomer and Jonpaul Smith.
Kravetz, who has made 6-foot-tall puppets, is challenging herself to create 6-inch ceramic dolls. Though she’s using a mold, each will be unique. She’d even entertained having Armacost design tattoos for some. The final C·S·Arts pick-up will kick off a monthlong show at Kennedy Heights with additional work by all the artists. Queen says that exhibition should titillate anyone on the fence about buying a “second season” share — assuming they’ll still be available.
Rachael Moore, part of Northside’s Object by modology gallery, was one of the first to buy a C·S·Arts share. The New York/Connecticut transplant, who moved here in 2011, says she’s noticed a surprising breadth of art in Cincinnati. Shareholder Gwen Kirles heard about C·S·Arts from friends on the committee. The 30-year-old is buying her first house and is thinking about the art for it. “It’s what’s going to make a house a home,” she says.
She calls $350 per share a “nice, introductory price” for art. “And you get to go to three great parties,” she says.
“Few can get a $1,000 painting,” agrees artist Burt. His contributions are a continuation of his Art4Diapers blog, which he set up to sell smaller, affordable works in anticipation of the birth of his child. Still-lifes populate his portfolio, making him a fitting, tongue-in-cheek choice for a harvest box.
At the Carnegie galleries, Distel muses that he can never be certain works in an exhibit will sell. Art is not a “one-way proposition,” he stresses. “You have to believe in that exchange between artist and collectors.” A CSA builds a bond. “It’s one of the things that can make Cincinnati a place to live and work and collect.”
For more information on these COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED ARTS initiatives, visit thecarnegie.com and csartscinnati.org.