Have you noticed that community sponsored agriculture programs aren’t just for fruits and veggies any more? Entrepreneurs are using this model to branch out and reach an increasingly engaged audience interested in discovering local fare.
Minnesota potters have an alternative means to sell their work thanks to the efforts of Springboard for the Arts, a St. Paul non-profit, and mnartists.org, an online artist resource that includes a database of Minnesota artists. These two organizations’ leaders were brainstorming for ways to serve artists in the Twin Cities area, when they came up with the idea of adapting the community sponsored agriculture (CSA) model, which supports local food and farmers, to the field of art, thereby supporting local artists. Dubbed Community Sponsored Art (also CSA), their program connects artists with art lovers and collectors. In the spring, each collector purchases a $350 share in the CSA. In return, they receive nine works of art harvested from nine different artists—from pottery to prints, to paintings and textiles. The work is packed in a special crate, a work of art itself, that’s made to look like a vintage vegetable or fruit crate. Since its inauguration in 2010, five Minnesota potters have been selected by jury to participate in the program: Maren Kloppmann (seasons 1 and 2, both in 2010), Kimberlee Joy Roth (season 2, 2010), Peter Jadoonath (season 3, 2011), Alex Reed (season 4, 2012), and Ginny Sims (seasons 5 and 6, 2013 and 2014). In 2014, the CSA program celebrated its 5th successful year by foregoing the jurying process and selecting a “greatest hits” list of favorite artists from 2010–13. The 2015 season’s artists have yet to be selected.
Each artist chosen for that season’s CSA crate is commissioned to create a series of 58 artworks (50 subscriptions plus 8 for the other artists). In exchange, the artist is paid $1000 (increased to $1250 in 2014). Covering costs is important for any working potter and the Twin Cities’ CSA potter/participants interviewed all agreed that this was a good price point for the cups or utensils each made for the exchange. Roth noted that the commission came at a perfect time in her career, as she discovered the benefits of having grants and commissions help in paying the bills. Jadoonath used the funds from his commission to buy bricks to build his own kiln.
Remuneration aside, the more intangible benefits of the program, from publicity and affirmation, to repeat customers and community support, have made the Twin Cities’ CSA a great opportunity for Minnesota potters. When asked about the immediate and long-term benefits of his participation in the CSA, Reed said, “I had just moved to Minneapolis and was looking for ways to interface with the local arts community and bring my work to a larger audience. . . . I felt like I was part of a community of artists, which at that time was, and still is, incredibly valuable to me. Feeling validated by an organization like Springboard during a post-BFA haze of doubt was great for my mental health.”7 Roth also appreciated the experience because her work was now recognized as part of the Twin Cities’ artist community. Jadoonath explained the benefits of the program by noting that his cups are now in over 50 kitchen cupboards of people who may not have been prior buyers of handmade pottery. Getting his name and teabowls out into the wider community was well worth the effort for him. He particularly enjoyed talking with subscribers at the CSA pickup party, typically held toward the end of the summer. Sims established new and repeat customers by participating in the program. She also found fulfilling connections with other artists she met at the pickup events. Another long-term benefit for Sims involves her business strategies; she and a friend, artist and woodcarver Jess Hirsch, like the CSA model so much that they are planning to set up a subscriptions program for their clay and wood kitchenwares.
The Twin Cities’ CSA program has gradually evolved over time. Initially, artists were asked to create agricultural and/or food-themed artworks—perfect for potters—but that requirement has been relaxed, according to program co-administrator Andy Sturdevant, who works for Springboard for the Arts. In 2012, another co-administrator of the CSA program, Jehra Patrick of the Walker Art Center, conducted a number of digital studio visits with the CSA artists that were published online in the Walker Art Center’s mnartists.blog. Sturdevant notes that the connections established between CSA artists were an unanticipated and happy by-product of the program. After polling previous participants in 2013, the administrators responded to artists’ comments about their fortuitous artist-to-artist relationships by incorporating physical artist-studio visits into the 2014 program. Of course, shareholders/supporters/collectors were invited to the artists’ studios as well. Discussions about process and progress began the artist-to-artist conversations and engaged collectors’ anticipation prior to the end-of-season pickup party. Interested in starting your own CSA? Springboard for the Arts will send you a free CSA replication kit through their Creative Exchange program—you can request one at www.springboardexchange.org. A $45 contribution to their not-for-profit organization secures your replication kit plus up to two hours of phone or video consultation with one of Springboard’s staff members. Since 2010, many other cities and organizations have started their own CSA program, modeled on the Twin Cities’ program, but changed to fit their needs and community.
the author Elizabeth Coleman is a ceramic artist and teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. To learn more visit www.elizabethcolemanstudios.com.