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Can Community-Supported Agriculture Be A Model For The Art World?

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Artist Jessica Cebra, an artist included in "Locally Sourced" at American University Museum, at her workbench in her Takoma Park home.
Emily Berman/WAMU
Artist Jessica Cebra, an artist included in "Locally Sourced" at American University Museum, at her workbench in her Takoma Park home.

Most people know by now about community supported agriculture. Commonly called “CSAs” or farm shares, it’s an arrangement which allows the consumer to pay a local farmer upfront for a share of the upcoming season's produce.

As it turns out, this model can work for artists, too.

Locally Sourced,” an exhibit running at American University Museum through March 15, examines this emerging trend. It’s the first of a series of four collaborative exhibits between American University and Transformer called “Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From?”

Transformer Artistic Director Victoria Reis curated the show and explains that community supported art is quite similar to a CSA in agriculture: “People will buy a yearlong subscription or membership and every month they get a new piece of artwork."

Buying in ahead of time, Reiss says, creates a whole new dynamic between artist and buyer, one that’s a little less calculated, and a little more “surprise!” You get what you get.

But what if you don't like it? In part, that’s the risk you take. Kind of like if you have a farm share and don’t like eggplant. But Reis says most CSA programs would work with you to make sure you get pieces you're happy with.

CSAs and FlatFile programs (in which galleries keep a large file cabinet of 2D work to sell work for many more artists than white walls allow) are new solutions to old problems. Namely, it’s hard to make a living as an artist.

“The idea that artists are just these interesting creatives that live in their garrett, whatever that might mean today, and they're just making their work and can live and be fabulous," Reis says. It's true to some extent, he adds. "But they still need to have health insurance, they still need to pay their bills, and buy their groceries.”

Future “Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From?” exhibits are set to be collaborations with Design Studio for Social Intervention , Elsewhere, and Franklin Furnace.

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