In the past few years, restaurants have been undeniably dominated by the farm-to-table trend, where reclaimed barn doors serve as tables and mason jars are filled to the brim with ice water. But more than just aesthetics, the trend reflects our newfound interest in seeking local, sustainable food, grown by farmers in neighboring communities. One of the many positive outcomes in this interest is a resurgence in community-supported agriculture (CSA), where consumers receive a monthly lot of produce through purchasing shares in a farm. Such a refreshing change in consumer behavior didn’t go unnoticed by Betsy McDermott Altheimer, associate director for an artist service organization called Springboard for the Arts, located in the Twin Cities. Altheimer had a realization that what works for farmers could work for artists. “We should just do a CSA!” she exclaimed in an interview with American Craft Magazine. “Only this time, the ‘a’ would stand for ‘art.’”
Altheimer believes that food systems are the perfect metaphor in the reality of today’s art scene. “People have this mythical notion of what a farmer does. In reality, there is a lot of risk. You can’t guarantee every crop will be successful,” says Altheimer. “Likewise, an artist can’t guarantee that everything he does will be great. But he can ask people to invest in the value of what he does.” Each season, nine artists participate. By signing up for a $300 share, a patron receives nine original works, plus admittance to three parties where the artists will be in attendance. Of course where the program seems a little less than ideal is the artist’s commission — for producing 50 pieces, he or she will only receive $1,000. But it’s up to the artist to create small, sensible works with a budgetary restriction in mind. The hope is that the artists will pick up new fans and patrons who will continue to follow and collect their work beyond the CSA share. “Our version of success is when the relationship continues beyond us,” affirms Altheimer.
Just as you won’t love everything delivered in your monthly farm CSA box — kale can get very, very tiring after four months — you might not enjoy every piece of art received in a share. But in this case, it seems like it’s the point of the matter — in the end, you’re supporting an artist’s pursuit of their passion. Just like a farmer who receives the extra cash flow needed to sow another acre, an art CSA might be an innovative means of keeping the arts thriving on a local level.
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.