Abigail Satinsky, Community-Supported Art Chicago

Making Contemporary Art Available to a Wider Public

What is the mission of Community Supported Art Chicago and how exactly does the program work?


Community-Supported Art Chicago is a yearly art subscription service of locally produced art. Borrowing the model of Community-Supported Agriculture, where consumers invest in a local farm and get a monthly payout of fruits and vegetables, threewalls is asking people to invest directly in the arts community with that same mentality and get limited edition contemporary artist projects in return. Our hope with the project is to introduce people to collecting contemporary art and making that process affordable and accessible.

threewalls commissioned 12 Chicago and regional artists to participate in the pilot year: Conrad Bakker, Sara Black, Edie Fake, Jesse Harrod, Jessica Labatte, Jason Lazarus, Laura Mackin, Eric Fleischauer, Pamela Fraser, Aay Preston-Myint, Steve Reinke, and Dan S. Wang. Each share costs $400 and subscribers receive six signed and numbered artworks over three months, from April to June 2011. Each artwork is a limited edition of 50 and shareholders receive a selection from participating artists. Subscriptions are limited to 100 per year. Shares are a curated mix of mediums, disciplines and conceptual projects, each one will be unique. Shares come in crates hand-crafted by artist Charlie Roderick and contain coupons and ephemera from local artist-run businesses like Golden Age, Featherproof Books, and Half-Letter Press. We do have a deal if you subscribe between February 1st and April 30th for $350.00.

How did CSA Chicago originate?

There are lots of other like-minded projects happening nationally. I heard about Community Supported Art of Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis, MN, last year, and I loved the spirit of their program and thought that Chicago could use their own version. There’s also Alula Editions which commissions original textiles designs from contemporary artists, The Thing Quarterly which asks artists to make editions of everyday objects, and The Present Group, highlighting artists in Oakland, California. And locally the Spudnik Press Cooperative is also starting an art subscription project for printmakers. So we’re in good company in launching this program.

My own thought process with this started a while back, after having started Sunday Soup with InCUBATE a couple years ago which has also turned into an international network of micro-granting projects on sundaysoup.org. It seems obvious with the funding climate that we’re in that both artists and nonprofits need to get together to re-imagine the possibilities of making contemporary art available to a wider public and support each other’s efforts. In order to have a healthy, mutually supportive arts system, we have to design programs that promote collaboration and community spirit. I recently started at threewalls as Program Director, and they are a perfect fit for this effort with their outstanding history of raising the visibility of the creative production happening in Chicago.

What were your considerations when commissioning artists?

We didn’t primarily go with artists who have a practice of making multiples. Instead, we started with exciting artists who we wanted to
support and promote. In the selection process it was important to us to represent emerging to mid-career Chicago artists who have an exhibition history that is national and international but don’t have an extensive local collector base. And for the spirit of Community-Supported Art, we also wanted to place an emphasis on artists who work collaboratively and participate in some way in the Chicago artist community and regional art ecosystem.

And with those criteria in mind, the selected artists have exhibited in museums and galleries all over the world, from the Museum of Contemporary Craft Portland, the Videonale at the Kunstmuseum Bonn, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), to The New Museum (New York), and collected in institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art (New York), and The Art Institute of Chicago. They also represent a range of mediums, from photography to video to sculpture, collage and painting. We wanted to have pieces that could hang on collectors’ walls but also
open up the process for other kinds of work like custom-packaged DVDs.

When comparing them to the vegetables and fruit that might accompany a traditional CSA program, which artist is the eggplant and which one's the kohlrabi? (Haha.)

Jason Lazarus is the eggplant and Eric Fleischauer is the kohlrabi. (Just kidding...)

Besides offering a sustainable model of funding local artists, in what ways do you hope the CSA program will impact the Chicago art community?

This is the pilot year so I think there’s a lot of ways this program can
grow. The first step was setting up a model where we could we could give a reasonable commission fee for artists to create new work and guarantee a great product for our subscribers. I would love to see this program galvanize a local collector base and create more opportunities for educating the public as to what art activity is happening locally. The hope is that the program is one part of making Chicago a more viable place for all artists.

There is a lot of talk these days circulating in more and more mainstream press about how we should be rethinking our food system, supporting ethical local producers, and being more knowledgeable about the process from farm to table. As healthy food is fundamental to our quality of life, so is a vibrant local culture.

Abigail Satinsky is the Program Director at threewalls in Chicago. She is a founding member of InCUBATE, a research group dedicated to exploring new approaches to arts administration and arts funding. The group operated out of a storefront space until 2009, where they hosted a residency program, Sunday Soup, and other public programs. They continue to write, curate exhibitions, and organize events collaboratively. Abigail also is a contributor to Bad at Sports blog and occasional podcasts.

Interview conducted by CAR Researcher Laura Pearson.

Published by CAR_Laura on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 2:03pm
Updated on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 12:21pm