Damon Thomas, Are You Sleeping. Courtesy the artist.
Fresh Arts CSA Adapts the Uber-Trendy Localism Model to Art Collecting
Buying local is certainly trendy. Even in the art world, amidst the increase of international art fairs and globe-trotting collectors, the prodigal patron is coming home to buy into “community supported art,” or CSA.
Fresh Arts, a Houston non-profit dedicated to strengthening the local arts sector and enhancing engagement with the arts, launched its own CSA in 2013, inspired by Springboard for the Arts, a forward-thinking arts organization in Minneapolis. Similar to the support that CSAs generate for small farms run by local farmers, CSA programs foster support for artists and assist in the distribution of artworks, helping to establish relationships with local collectors by selling a limited number of member “shares” each year. This new format taps into the “buy-direct, buy-local” appeal of the agriculture model from which it borrows.
But the trend isn’t entirely new. For generations, museums and other organizations have relied on imaginative fundraisers, galas and more to generate interest in and support for the arts by offering an artwork alongside a financial contribution that is not directly tied to its market value (think silent auctions, raffles, etc.).
What the CSA brings to the table is a more supportive format for the artists (both in terms of money and creative license) and a more enticing selection for the buyer. Instead of artists submitting a piece from the dregs of their studio for auction, or desperately putting a strong piece up in the hopes that a collector will recognize its value – and rarely, if ever, receiving even a portion of the profit — the CSA commissions new works created specifically with the format and goal of the program in mind.
That’s right, commissions. Fresh Arts’ CSA artists get paid whether the shares sell or not – this year, each artist receives $1,750. While this payment may not compete with the cut an artist would receive if they sold a larger, singular, more expensive work through a gallery or out of their studio, it does put a decent amount of money in their pocket without the pressure of sales.
In order to populate the CSA shares, Fresh Arts invites artists from all disciplines to participate by submitting proposals that are representative of their larger body of work and adhere to size constraints. Then, a rotating cast of arts professionals, previous share buyers, and Fresh Arts staff review the submissions based on quality, uniqueness, professionalism, and feasibility. Together they select and commission a group of artists to create 50 pieces of the work they proposed.
Executive Director Jenni Rebecca Stephenson explains that the CSA is a great fit for Fresh Arts, which she describes as an arts service organization with a very public face. “We have back-end services for artists and arts administrators, but still want to stay engaged with the general public– particularly so that we can facilitate connections between artists and patrons who can collect their work.” One of their major goals is to showcase independent artists and create opportunities for them to generate income; the CSA encourages collectors to buy original artwork and, in turn, supports the local art scene.
Each CSA member share costs $350 and includes one piece from each of the featured artists. Collectors are invited to pick up three pieces at a time from two informal community ‘pick-up’ parties, giving collectors and artists a chance to get to know each other and, perhaps, build a lucrative relationship.
This year, the team selected five individual artists and one collaboration to create a work of art for the shares: Josh Alan, Elaine Bradford, Nicky Davis, Jessica Kreutter, Damon Thomas, Charisse Weston + Ronnie Yates. But these artists aren’t making it easy on themselves by merely cranking out a few editioned prints. Instead, each share contains artworks with unique embellishments or variations on a theme, and one of a kind works range from prints to poetry to hand crocheted head pieces to ceramic sculptures and small paintings.
Bradford decided to participate in the CSA program as a way to begin to realize a larger project. “I’ve been interested in getting people to participate with my art and this seemed like a good launching pad for that. For the CSA, I am creating headpieces, similar to masks I have been making to wear myself in recent photographs,” she says. “After people purchase the CSA and get their shares I am asking that they make an appointment with me to be photographed wearing the mask. This way they will not only get a piece of art (in the headpiece), but they will also help me create new art (in the photograph).” She plans to use her commission to buy a higher-end camera which will be important in completing the project.
The food CSA model is based on consumable produce, which means a built-in element that encourages repeat customers. Since art isn’t consumable in the same way, the art CSA relies on traditional patronage for repeat business for the artist and for the program itself. “It is certainly our hope that these introductions to new collectors under intimate circumstances will result in the establishment of a relationship which may lead to the future acquisition of more artwork,” says Stephenson. “By giving the CSA buyers a ‘taste’ of this artwork, they are becoming invested in these artists.” Plus, it’s exciting to be surprised by the new share. “The mystery is a big part of the fun,” says Fresh Arts program manager Sarah Schellenberg.
But you’d better hurry – there are only 50 shares available. Last year, the CSA sold out and, with this crop of artists, there is every reason to think it will happen again.