The life of a farmer can be lonely and tough, filled with hard work, long days, endless investment in equipment and raw materials, and unpredictable harvests. Kind of like the life of an artist.
Which is why the idea of community-supported art – based on the model of community-supported agriculture – just might make sense.
Since the 1980s, urban dwellers have committed to bolstering the agricultural sector by subscribing to the community-supported agriculture model. CSA members pay for a share up front at the beginning of the season, and then go on to partake of the farmer’s bounty with regular pickups as the year goes on. Traditional CSA members also share in the farmer’s risk – if it’s a bad year for apples, CSA members get fewer apples. It’s a way for growers to regularize their income and give them some security in a business where the only thing you can count on is uncertainty.
In recent years, the CSA model has been extended to seafood, meat, honey, and flowers. It was probably only a matter of time before artists got in on the act. Art CSAs have sprung up in Pittsburgh, Miami, and Fargo, North Dakota.
Dianne Debicella found out about the first art CSA, run by Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis-St.Paul, through her work for a national arts organization called Fractured Atlas. "I myself am a member of an agricultural CSA," says Debicella. "It’s a fun model in general. I wanted to bring it to New York."
So with a partner, Jill Peterson, Debicella started the nonprofit Brooklyn CSA+D (that stands for Community Supported Art and Design). The idea, says Debicella, is to connect people interested in collecting art at a reasonable price point with artists who want their work to find a home out there in the real world.
Last weekend, Brooklyn CSA+D members picked up their inaugural harvest of art at an event that was also attended by some of the artists. For $500, participants got a full share of six works produced in editions of 50 by a group of artists selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants. (Half shares were also available, for $250.) The artists, who each received a commission of $3,000, created in a variety of media including ceramics, watercolors, and fiber.
This being a city of small apartments and many car-free citizens, the works were supposed to be small, able to fit in a box measuring 18 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches. In the end, a couple – like tubes of handmade wallpaper – ended up being a bit bigger. The only other restriction was that the artists needed to produce actual objects. A shareholder who received a piece of conceptual art might understandably feel a bit shortchanged.
The September share, the group’s first, sold out in about a month. The October share still has some open spots. Debicella and Peterson are currently undecided on whether to run a winter share, but there will definitely be a spring version of CSA+D.
For shareholders, the pickup was a little bit like an early Christmas, says Debicella – right down to the regifting. “I asked people what they would do if they didn’t like one of the artworks, and a couple of them said they would give them to someone else,” she says with a laugh.
For the artists, the financial aspect of participating in the CSA+D has certainly been a plus. But Debicella says that for most, connecting with an audience has been the highlight. “A couple of the artists talked about it being an exciting challenge for them,” says Debicella. “It forced them in a direction they wouldn’t have gone in.” One watercolorist planned to make 50 versions of the same painting, but found himself inspired instead to create a series of 50 individual paintings that all relate to one another.
Being part of the CSA has connected people who normally work in solitude with the world beyond their studios. "The artists have all expressed extreme gratitude," says Debicella. "It’s exciting for them that their work is out there with 50 different people that they don’t know."