Like most local artists, Sarah Parker isn't part of a big, established organization. Her Continuum Dance Company doesn't snag large grants or own its own building. The group largely depends on audience support and its own ingenuity.
Local artists can survive that way, of course. But, says Parker, in Pittsburgh, "Art [has] seemed very imported sometimes."
Making food seem less imported was one motive behind the now-popular community-supported agriculture model created years ago by farms: Participants buy "shares" in small growers, who receive much-needed cash up front and in exchange supply shareholders with baskets of produce through the growing season. In 2010, St. Paul, Minn.'s Springboard for the Arts adapted the idea for artists; the notion spread. And starting this season, Pittsburgh alone has two distinct community-supported arts programs.
CSA PGH (www.csapgh.com) is the brainchild of Casey Droege, assistant professor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Fifty shareholders will each pay $350. Each of six artists receives a $1,000 stipend to produce 50 identical pieces of art, whether photo, sculpture or CD. The artists include visual artist Kim Beck; multidisciplinary artist David Bernabo; conceptual artist Lenka Clayton; performance artist Alexi Morrissey; photographer Ed Panar; and sculptor Will Kofmehl. Within days of going on sale April 30, says Droege, the shares were all but sold out.
The New Hazlett Theater's CSA (www.newhazletttheater.org), meanwhile, is unusual nationally in spotlighting performance, says theater executive director Rene Conrad. She hopes to sell $100 shares to 300 shareholders who'll get exclusive viewing rights to the premieres of six original performances (one every other month for a year starting in August).
The performers (chosen from among 60 applicants) get $2,000 stipends, performance space and technical backup. They include: multimedia puppet-theater troupe Miniature Curiosa; the Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra; performance artist Dan Wilcox; choreographer Maree ReMalia; playwright/performer Kelli Stevens Kane; and Continuum.
Continuum's work-in-progress, Objects of Desire, is about "chasing the American Dream," says Parker. It was inspired largely by feedback from area audiences who were asked, "Why do we do what we do? What do we want to get out of life?"
While the CSA's financial support is useful, Parker says, she is most excited to join this multi-genre program of local artists. She hopes it will foster Continuum's own mission, too: planting the seeds for a more bountiful arts scene.