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Prints by artist Snicka that are featured in Avenue for the Arts’ new CSArt program. Prints by artist Snicka that are featured in Avenue for the Arts’ new CSArt program. COURTESY PHOTO

New community supported arts program breaks down barriers between artists, public

BY JOSH SPANNINGA Sunday, June 06, 2021 04:40pm

Art collecting is often seen as only accessible to people willing to invest substantial funds, and an activity generally reserved for the extremely wealthy.

In an effort to combat this stereotype and make the process of collecting art more accessible to the general public, Grand Rapids-based Avenue for the Arts LLC has put together its first-ever Community Supported Art (CSArt) program. 

The program is based on the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business model in which community members purchase shares from local farmers, who in turn supply the purchaser with a designated portion of their crop over time. 

Instead of produce, the CSArt program provides the purchaser with a small collection of artwork from local artists.

Avenue for the Arts Director Zachary Trebellas says he was inspired by similar CSArt programs in dozens of cities across the U.S. and Canada.

“I thought, ‘OK, Grand Rapids isn’t on that map. Let’s bring that idea here if it’s something that’s really working across the country,’” Trebellas told MiBiz.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped Trebellas advance the idea after it became apparent that both local artists and community members would greatly benefit from the program. 

“The public and artists were interacting less than ever as everyone was interacting less, so I thought that this would be a good opportunity to sort of reconnect local artists with the general public,” he said, adding that the model has the potential to reach people who don’t typically visit art fairs or galleries. “I’ve lived here for six years and I’ve seen how difficult it is for the general public to find and buy art locally.”

How it works

The first shares became available for purchase on June 3. For its inaugural CSArt program, Avenue for the Arts is offering a full share consisting of nine pieces of art from nine different local artists for $300. The program also offers a fraction share option for three works of art for $100. Each option can be purchased directly through Avenue for the Arts’ website, which also features samples of the artists’ works.

Avenue for the Arts issued an initial call for artists this past winter and received applications from 25 local artists. A jury that included an art professor, muralist and the owner of a local screen printing shop selected nine artists who would provide a variety of mediums and styles.

“They spent an afternoon looking at the 25 and trying to decide not only who could successfully do this project, but also what nine artists would work well together,” Trebellas said. “If someone were to receive work from nine artists, you don’t want nine screenprints of nature or something. They tried to pick to allow variety and quality.”

The selected artists include two photographers, a painter who specializes in miniature watercolors, a ceramicist, multiple illustrators and printmakers, and an artist who creates cyanotypes. The idea was to include works that are enticing to a diverse audience.

In addition to receiving the artwork, CSArt shareholders will also be invited to events where they can interact with the artists who made the work. This again mirrors the more common CSA program in which purchasers pick up their produce directly from the farm they are supporting. 

Increasing artistic freedom

While the CSArt program benefits the general public by making art collecting  easier and more affordable, it also benefits the artists with guaranteed payments up front.

“Over half of the money made goes straight to the artists,” Trebellas said. “Each artist was paid $1,000 to make 50 artworks, which isn’t really a lot when you think about it. They have to be pretty economical with that.”

Shares became available for purchase on June 3, and all artwork is to be completed by July. The first CSArt pick-up event is tentatively scheduled for late August.

Eliza Fernand is among the artists featured in the program. Fernand is a multidisciplinary artist who has worked in a variety of mediums including murals, quilts, ceramics and video. She is also a teaching artist at Grand Rapids-based West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT). Fernand’s submissions to the program are miniature slip cast ceramic ghost sculptures, which patrons will receive along with access to a video that she animated using the artworks.

By paying the artists up front, the CSArt program has provided Fernand with more freedom to create something truly unique. 

“I like the opportunity to make something that someone can own and appreciate as a work of art,” she said. “It’s a small sculpture instead of a cup.”

Snicka, another local artist featured in the program, is excited to meet community members who will be receiving her work. 

“I’ve gone to different events at local galleries in Grand Rapids, but I haven’t gotten to interact with our community with my art before, so I’m definitely looking forward to that,” Snicka said.

Snicka’s submission to the CSArt program will consist of a limited series of art prints. While Snicka has done this type of printmaking before, this will be her first time working on a project of this size.

Trebellas is hopeful that Avenue for the Arts can make the CSArt program a regular occurrence. As with many of the organization’s projects, the CSArt program will act as a sort of pilot that may be replicated in the future if successful. Organizers expect the 50 shares to sell out quickly based on early interest from pre-registrations.

“My hope is that this will be a successful way for non-art people to support the arts scene,” Trebellas said. “I’m hoping that this is an accessible way for people who haven’t really dipped their toes into buying local art to be able to do it easily.”

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