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Arts: Starters

Start Me Up: Jackson Artists Champion Community Supported Art

+ Story by Meg Daly
+ Photography by Latham Jenkins

Temperatures dipped below zero the night of December 5, 2013. But inside an elegant private home in Jackson Hole, Moroccan lentil soup simmered on the stove while a group of 40 artists and arts supporters buzzed with excitement. They were attending a very different sort of dinner party.

Mike Piggott
Mike Piggott illuminates his painting process. “Art is magic,” Piggott says.

The party was called “Starters.” Produced by several artists and writers to provide a simple, direct way for their community to support local artists, Starters featured presentations by five artists and a meal made by volunteer chefs. Guests chipped in $25 or more for the meal, and, in exchange, received a ballot. During dinner, the artists stood up and offered proposals on what they would do with the door money, were they to win. Diners cast their votes, ballots were collected, and during a dessert of chocolate caramel cookies and pumpkin cupcakes, a winner was announced. Printmaker Walt Gerald went home with $1,000 to create a series of prints about Wyoming environmental and wildlife issues.

This kind of direct, unrestricted funding to artists is part of a nationwide trend. Often led by artists themselves, micro-granting dinner parties and community-supported art projects are cropping up all over. A group out of Chicago called InCUBATE is credited with developing the idea for the meal-based micro-grant in 2007.

Menu

Menu
Delicious homemade food complemented the artists’ presentations at “Starters.”

“Winning was about more than just the money,” Gerald says. “I am in the fairly early stages of my artistic career, and the recognition I’ve received as a result of Starters was inspiring. I am now more driven than ever to continue my work here in Jackson.”

While some dinner parties take place in school gyms or arts centers, the Jackson model started in private homes, providing a special intimacy to the event.

Wilson, Wyoming-based interior designer Nanette Mattei attended Starters not knowing what to expect. She left with a deeper connection to the valley’s art scene. “I enjoyed the presentations and meeting new people who have a passion for the arts,” Mattei says.

Events like Starters provide artists with an opportunity to talk about their art in public, a difficult skill that not all artists enjoy. “Artists learn how to give voice to what they are doing,” Alissa Davies says. She’s a visual artist and a previous presenter at a Starters dinner, in September 2013. “It’s about vulnerability and encouraging artists to tell their own story—there are not many forums for that.”

Photographer Vanessa Sulzer, a presenter at the December Starters, concurred. “It was definitely good for me to be out of my comfort zone.”

Walt Gerald
Walt Gerald discusses his proposal to create a series of prints addressing Wyoming environmental and wildlife issues.

As a pilot program, Starters was a great success. Now, Jackson artists and arts administrators are in conversation about developing a sustainable model to keep the meal-based micro-grant event going. In the meantime, grassroots-minded arts supporters in the Jackson area can look to a new Community Supported Art program spearheaded by Davies.

Based on the Community Supported Agriculture model, in which consumers buy shares of seasonal food directly from local farms, Community Supported Art provides collectors with a new way of investing in local art.

Diners
Diners were an integral part of the Starters award; their votes decided the winner.
Vanessa Sulzer
Photographer Vanessa Sulzer takes viewers on a visual “walk,” capturing moments of wonder.

 

“CSA Jackson Hole” will select nine artists to create 40 “shares” for their program. Interested collectors will purchase a share and, in return, receive crates of locally produced artwork at three pick-up parties during the summer of 2014. Featured works could include a run of screen-prints, a series of small tea cups, a series of photographs, tickets to an upcoming intimate performance or event, letterpress editions of a poem or small original paintings.

“Connecting people is a form of creativity itself that strengthens community,” Davies says. “Art is important to the fabric of where we live.”

For more information regarding CSA Jackson Hole, contact Davies at csajacksonhole@gmail.com.

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