Subscribing to Art

May 9th, 2011

Abigail Satinsky talks about the Community Supported Art program

By Inaya Yusef

There is a connection between the arts and economic development, and tightly knit art communities in cities like Chicago are always discovering exciting opportunities to collaborate and reach new audiences. For their newly conceived program, threewalls gallery has adopted the model of community supported agriculture programs for their new collecting initiative, Community-Supported Art (CSA). Operating in a similar fashion, shareholders in the program invest in an annual art subscription and, in return, receive six numbered and signed artworks over the course of three months.

The 12 participating artists in the pilot year of CSA are all regional, including Conrad Bakker, Sara Black, Edie Fake, Eric Fleischauer, Jesse Harrod, Jessica Labatte, Jason Lazarus, Laura Mackin, Aay Preston-Myint, Pamela Fraser, Steve Reinke and Dan S. Wang. The artists were each given $1,000 and total creative freedom to create their artworks. The only guidelines? That the artworks must fit into Charlie Roderick’s hand-crafted crates that were designed especially for CSA.

“It has been a meaningful experience throughout,” participating artist Sara Black told F Newsmagazine. “I am a sculpture and installation artist and my work is usually performance and time-based. Having threewalls invite me to become a part of this is a real honor, because I would not think that the type of work I do would be considered for a creation of multiples.” Unique projects such as CSA Chicago open up new distribution channels for contemporary arts and allows artists to make their practice more accessible and affordable. The project also opens up the possibility of owning artwork for people who may have never thought about collecting, and fights against the idea that art is only for the wealthy.

If you are a supporter of the arts in Chicago, you are certainly aware of the many cash-strapped individuals and corporations not being able to support the arts and culture. Seeking funding has never been an easy task to embark upon and it is undoubtedly one of the most demanding aspects of entrepreneurship today. threewalls is no stranger to innovation and they constantly adopt dynamic and experimental fundraising initiatives. “Given the economic situation in the last couple of years and the lack of funding, I feel that threewalls has been a lightning rod in the community and they set a tone for other organizations to find different ways to contribute,” says fiber artist Jesse Harrod. “In the long run, it is important for us as both local and regional artists to help maintain spaces that support the arts community. At the end of the day, it is a win-win situation and we all benefit from the partnership.”

For the project, Urbana-based artist Conrad Bakker created editions involving a series of singular, carved and painted potatoes—Untitled Project: PRODUCE (Potato)—that mimics the object expectations of a traditional CSA economy. He is highly supportive of sustainable creative practices and in response he states that, “If you have to raise awareness and fundraise, why not generate capital in a way that values the producers, distributors and consumers? Sustainable economies are good for everyone.”

Whoever you talk to, from non-profit, independent artist-run spaces to leading commercial galleries, the same thing lies at the heart of a successful art space operation: the community. Having co-founded InCUBATE and joining threewalls as Program Director last year, Abigail Satinsky explains how she got the fledging project off the ground by tapping into Chicago’s most active and promising artists.

INAYA GRACIANA YUSUF: Let’s talk about CSA Chicago. How did the concept originate?

ABIGAIL SATINSKY: I first learned about the program when I went out to an open engagement in Portland, Oregon. I met Springboard for the Arts, a professional development organization for the arts and was immediately attracted to their Community-Supported Art program. It got me thinking of different ways to get contemporary out to different sources. I thought Chicago would be a great place to do it because we have an excellent community spirit. As part of a fundraising mechanism for threewalls, I decided to bring it here. We wanted to develop new and exciting programs to further expand opportunities for everyone. Reaching a new audience and helping them figure out how to support the arts is one of our on-going goals. It really began to unfold from there.

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IGY: How is the project funded? Is it all from threewalls or did you seek other resources?

AS: We have other support from individual donors and other organizations such as 3arts, Other People’s Pixels and Armand Lee & Company. We applied to 3arts through their grant program. They were excited about the project and provided us the funds for the artist stipend. Armand Lee & Company supported us by providing free framing for works that will be showing at the launch event.

IGY: How does the CSA model work? It is a system that involves various stakeholders ranging from the organization, the artists to the consumers or subscribers. Can you elaborate more on what the program entail.

AS: Each artist produced an edition of 51 pieces, 50 of which are available as part of the subscription program, and one of which was auctioned off during the CSA launch event on April 30th. For as long as artwork is available, subscribers can pay $400 for a share and will receive a random selection of six artworks in a custom crate over a three-month period. For $700, subscribers will receive a complete set of 12 artworks. Additionally, they will also receive coupons for artist-run spaces, alternative spaces and exposure to other local, artist-run businesses. What we are interested is a threefold. Firstly, we want to support local artist and make Chicago a good place for them to build a career. We would like to bring attention to their work and think about how to spread their work to new audiences. Secondly, we are trying to make the process of buying contemporary art accessible and plausible. Many of the times people who buy contemporary art know that the process is not transparent. We want the exact opposite and we hope to make it an open process where they have an option to become a part of everything. A lot of times people don’t understand how the non-profit functions and how they fund themselves. This brings us to another mission of generating interest and familiarizing individuals to become more involved in the community in the future.

IGY: How did you select the twelve artists commissioned for this year’s program? Are they artists you have previously worked with in the past? Describe to us how they fit into the project’s mission.

AS: They are a mixture of emerging and established artists who are local and would want to be called regional artists. Some of these artists have worked with threewalls but some are just artists that we were just interested in. As you know, we decided to have a curated-selection, in which Shannon and myself come to an agreement on which artists to include. That is the difference with the other CSA program, where they go through an open-call, application process. For its initial launch, we wanted to make sure we have a strong body of work to gain interest. The criteria for instance include artists that have strong local exhibition histories as well as regional and national. We specifically lean towards those who are making various types of exciting and compelling work.

IGY: Will the selection process be the same throughout the years?

AS: We really think of a spectrum of careers when we chose these artists. We are always on the lookout for forward thinking artists who have multiple opportunities. We are presenting a new and exciting crop of artists who are out there, making a name for him or herself. They are the most exciting people making work in Chicago today and there are tons more that I am excited to work with in the near future. However, going back to your question about upcoming selection process, we don’t know yet. We are still open about where this project can take us. There are endless ways in which we can develop this project further and I don’t think we should close off any opportunities that come along.

IGY: Was this the first project that you have worked with on such an intimate level? Do you think this project will help shift or improve the ethos of threewalls as a whole?

AS: It is the first time I have worked on a project that specifically commissions artists to make new work. It was a new experience for me in that regards. However, I have worked in the past with InCUBATE and worked with artists on specific projects. Overall, I think this brings us to share a convivial experience—making it a fun task and it also brings people together. There is that fundraising aspect of it that fits into the mission of threewalls. Since this project is very open-ended, it allows threewalls to reach out and further extend their presence in the Chicago art community. It is an equalizer, where everyone benefits from the process and gets to participate along the way.

IGY:
How do you intend on improving the Chicago art scene with the introduction of CSA?

AS: We reach out to the Chicago community in many ways. We aim to act as a liaison and expand the network with additional hope that threewalls gallery will further grow as a platform for creative expression. There are tons of programs here ranging from exhibitions, talks, and workshops to name a few. With CSA, I am hoping we will draw in more people and more attention so that they could one day become a part of the larger conversation. From the artists, shareholders and to us as art administrators, everything will become an open process. I believe having this solid network and positive engagement will further add onto the Chicago’s community empowered art scene. We adopted the model from elsewhere and I think other people or non-profit organizations can adopt these changes too.

IGY:
What are some of the challenges you have encountered so far?

AS: It has been an amazing learning process. Most agreed to the concept and it was really exciting to see the artists jump into the process. The concern was time: when are the pieces due and when can they get it done. Marketing was also a huge task and I was trying to be cautious of the overall process. Otherwise, it has been interesting to see people rise to the challenge in new and unpredicted ways. People are willing to join in and it has been working surprisingly well.

IGY:
How did you promote CSA? Was there a different marketing approach or communication strategy that you did differently for this specific project?

AS: We promoted through traditional press and online media marketing. We also incorporated new approaches. For one, we commissioned a Chicago-based artist Charlie Roderick for the crates and we asked local writer Carston Lund to write an essay about the work. We made a publication specifically for CSA Chicago too. We also worked a lot with artist run businesses and tried to figure out how to make multiple partners and advertise these local businesses.

IGY:
Where do you see CSA in five years? What is your future plans for CSA?

AS: Rethinking art sustainability, I would like to get more artists involved, have more money and more reach for it. I would hope that the project would grow and change every year. Keeping everything going is important. I feel great about the program and I don’t see why it would stop. Once it has a life of its own, artist can utilize it as a platform.

IGY: What would you do differently?

AS: Perhaps what I would like to introduce next year is some sort of get together option. It would be great to have everyone get together and buy a share collectively. Maybe through promotions or gatherings where individuals can discuss the work they are interested and work together in obtaining them. Everyone has a preference and I am sure that some people prefer to get the work they really want. The surprise element is great, but for I am sure it would be good to have options beyond the silent auction. In any case, this would allow individuals to collaborate!

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