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Community Supported Art

Above: Community Supported Art from SpringboardArts on Flickr

I’ve been collecting contemporary art for over 35 years, and of all the amazing works I’ve come across, one of my favorite pieces sits on my desk at Knight Foundation.

It’s a small wooden music box, about the size of a quart of milk. You take the lid off and it begins to play a series of quiet beautiful notes, just like a music box should. Then a chorus comes in and surprises you. Suddenly the hip hop artist Invincible begins to rap on top of the music. In a grand finale, you get a flashing light show out of the music box’s translucent top.

It’s a total surprise, and one I never get tired of listening to, watching and showing to guests in my office.

But the best part is that the work was produced through a program Knight funds called Community Supported Art, which the New York Times profiled today.  Community Supported Art, or C.S.A., is a way to connect artists with their communities and with new collectors. It’s based on the Farm Share model, where people pay a certain amount each week to receive a bushel of fresh produce from local farmers. With C.S.A., though, instead of getting a bushel of corn or zucchini, you get a basket of works made by local artists.

Laura Zabel at St. Paul’s Springboard for the Arts launched the program, which has spread to more than 40 cities across the country with the help of a C.S.A. toolkit Knight funded.

As journalist Randy Kennedy writes: “The C.S.A.’s have flourished in larger cities as a kind of organic alternative to the dominance of the commercial gallery system and in smaller places as a way to make up for the dearth of galleries, as a means of helping emerging artists and attracting people who are interested in art but feel they have neither the means nor the connections to collect it.”

Along the way, C.S.A. has helped create a bond between artists and new collectors that has resulted in commissions and generated 50 engaged relationships for each artist who participates in the program.

The lucky purchasers of the Detroit C.S.A. got the music box as one of nine pieces for buying a CSA share for $350. The piece was produced by Complex Movements, currently a Knight Arts Challenge finalist in Detroit, with production by Wajeed and design by Wes Taylor.

I give talks about collecting all over the country and I always remind people that you don’t have to be rich to collect art. This is one of those great examples.

I have a funny feeling, though, that after today’s Times story, it might get a little more difficult to get a share.

Congrats to Laura Zabel and her staff at Springboard for the Arts, who came up with the idea and the toolkit. I hope more communities across the United States read the storyand are inspired to create their own C.S.A. collective.

- Dennis Scholl, VP for arts at Knight Foundation

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