Philadelphia CSA: An Interview with Grizzly Grizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid

Founded in 2012, the Philadelphia CSA program, a joint venture between Grizzly Grizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid, supports a direct maker-to-buyer relationship between artists and collectors working and living in the Philadelphia region. Grizzly Grizzly is an artist collective established in 2009. Tiger Strikes Asteroid is an artist collective established in 2008. Both are based in Philadelphia, PA, and are dedicated to programming and exhibitions in emerging contemporary art.

I moved to Atlanta from Philadelphia right before this program was launched, so I was excited for this opportunity to speak to three CSA founders (and artists) Jacque Liu and Cindy Stockton-Moore from Grizzly Grizzly, and Anne Schaefer, Director of Tiger Strikes Asteroid.

Rachel Reese: How was the CSA Philly born? Can you talk about the impetus to create this? Were you responding to a void in the local cultural landscape or was this originating from personal interests?

Jacque Liu: I first heard about the CSA (Community Supported Art) program in Minneapolis about a year before the Knight Arts Grant was announced by the City of Philadelphia.  We talked about it at Grizzly Grizzly and we all loved the idea. When the City announced that they were seeking applicants to help support the creation of a CSA here in Philadelphia, we jumped.  Teaming with Tiger Strikes Asteroid, we applied and were awarded one of the two adjudicated grants.

As artist collectives, both Grizzly Grizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid are always looking for creative programming—things that we can do because we are independent artists and not large institutions, 501(c)3’s or commercial spaces.  Projects like the CSA are of particular interest because it calls for creative problem solving and innovative engagement.  As collectives, there are enough of us to actually get things done without being overwhelmed and at the same time because we don’t have a board or the like to answer to—we have enough flexibility to adjust as needed without organizational constraint.

RR: Can you talk about how the two spaces (Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Grizzly Grizzly) work with each other within the CSA? Are there structured boundaries or responsibilities or is it an organic collaboration?

Anne Schaefer: The collaboration between the spaces was absolutely organic. Although within the primary planning committee, there were four Grizzly Grizzly members and just myself from Tiger Strikes Asteroid, I believe that both spaces had a significant and equal role in the project from development to execution. We worked together and capitalized on the individual strengths of the members from both spaces that were involved.

RR: How has the reach of the CSA expanded beyond its initial goals?

Cindy Stockton-Moore: We’ve expanded on the Springboard for the Arts model in a couple of ways that reflect the fact that we are artist-run spaces.  First off, we increased the share price in order to get more money to the artists to complete these projects. Second, we added an exchange component among the participating artists so that everyone was able to ‘buy in’ to the concept as a whole.  The roles of artists/collectors/administrators get woven into one in the process and it really did become more about building a community of support.

RR: Is there additional or supplemental programming that supports the CSA artists or collectors?

JL : As people began to find out about the CSA, everything began to take a life of its own and the supplemental programming was a big part of it.

First and foremost, for each of the three pick-up events, we planned an exhibition around the three artists whose artwork was in the share.  This was meant to help contextualize for shareholders the artwork that they were getting.  Also, it worked as a talking-point for shareholders and artists.

In addition to these exhibitions, we featured two process oriented workshops and demonstrations in conjunction with the artists’ respective pick-up events: a do-it-yourself ring-making workshop with Sarah Kate Burgess and a printmaking demo by Ivanco Talevski.  By inviting audiences into the working processes of the artist, we sought to create a more meaningful connection for shareholders and their newly acquired artwork.   For those who attended the ring-making workshop with Sarah, they will know what it is to physically make the ring with their own hands through cutting, gluing and folding each part.  Similarly, those who saw Ivanco’s demo will always remember that moment of awe when Ivanco pulled the plate off of the paper and revealed the print.  We hope that whenever they view these pieces in their homes, they will remember these moments.

Another supplement for audiences that we had came through studio visits with the artists.  Since selecting the artists, we conducted two studio visits with each of the artists.  At each of these studio visits, we took photographs of their work and on the second visit, we also conducted video interviews with the artists.  Both were posted to the web and are always available to anyone online.

In addition to our own events, there were also a few additional exhibitions that happened as a result of the CSA program.  In November, there was a show at Urban Outfitters Headquarters, where they dedicated a 30+ foot wall to the CSA artists.  Then in December, there was a show at City Hall featuring the all of the CSA shares. Most recently, threewalls in Chicago has contacted us to participate in an exhibition in St. Louis of CSA’s across the country, which will be accompanied by a publication as well.

RR: How has the community responded?

AS: I think that the community response has been favorable. The events have been well attended by both shareholders as well as the general art community. We really made a conscious effort to ensure that our pickup events would generate greater visibility of for the project by hosting them in conjunction with exhibitions of the artists’ work or partnering with other local art spaces.  As a result more levels of the community have been exposed to the project.  There has been significant interest from artists in regard to how they may be involved with future iterations of the program as well as inquiries from the community about timing for the next “crop” of artists.  The range of press that we have received can be found athttp://www.csartphilly.com/press.html

RR: What do you feel is the direct benefit to the artists involved?

CSM: The most direct benefit is the chance to be funded for a project in advance of its creation.  Knowing the budget, audience and timeframe in advance, we encouraged artists to experiment with processes outside of their on-going studio practice.

RR: Have more lasting relationships evolved between collector and artist that are directly related to the CSA participation?

JL: It’s a bit early to tell if there have been any “lasting relationships” formed between artist and collector thus far.  But we do know that:  1. People who were already known collectors are very happy with the art they received, 2. There were a lot of people who invested in CSA shares who were not previously aware of Grizzly Grizzly or Tiger Strikes Asteroid, 3. Some of our shareholders actually work in the cultural sector but in other areas, like theatre or heritage, and they were happy to be made aware of this section of the visual arts community.

In terms of relationships that came as a result of the CSA, though, there have been some interesting and unexpected connections.  For example, someone who is doing his PhD on Community Supported Environments wanted to have a conversation with us about how our program went.  We talked and it was a great start to what we hope is an ongoing dialogue.  He told me about all kinds of interesting programs, like Community Supported Energy, Community Supported Fish, Community Supported Journalism, etc. as well as how many of these programs have developed and sustained themselves.  We’ll stay in touch as he finishes his thesis; he’s also trained as a filmmaker and hopes to have a documentary produced down the line.

It is an example of one of the many unexpected delights.

RR: Did you sell out all 50 shares from your first season?

AS: We sold nearly all 50 shares.  We do have a small number left. The remaining shares can still be purchased at http://www.csartphilly.com/buy.html

RR: How do you place value on the artwork produced for each share? What if an artist does not have a selling history?

CSM: The share price wasn’t set per individual artist, but rather on the ‘share’ as a whole.  It was truly democratic in that way, so artists with an extensive selling history were grouped with more emerging artists and each was given the exact same amount.  We chose artists whose work we believed in—and whose practices would work in this unique context—so it is a measure of value outside of a market. That’s part of what makes the economic model so interesting.

RR: What is the financial model in terms of the CSA’s costs and commissions? What does the artist take home?

JL: Our CSA artists were each paid $1,750 to create their shares.  This represents a big increase from the $1,000 suggested amount from Springboard.  All of us in Grizzly Grizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid are working artists and we know that the value of art is difficult to gauge because it is subjective by nature.  Even after establishing value, each piece could be worth more or less depending on how much people simply like the piece.

Further, given the skills and accomplishments of our selected artists, we still knew that 175% of the suggested honorarium couldn’t properly compensate them monetarily.  But the CSA program isn’t just about money and its value can’t be measured solely in cash.

Most immediately, there was a lot of added value in the ancillary events and media attention.  In addition, we selected artists not just for the high quality of their work, but for their working processes as well—meaning we looked for artists whose working process fit well with the CSA model.  Because all of the members of Grizzly Grizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid are working artists, we know what it is to make art and we used this knowledge to help us curate.  So these artists were all afforded an opportunity to make a great project that they may not have been able to do without the CSA program.  Knowing this, we also helped to facilitate their working processes by connecting them to institutions who offered in-kind help.  One example is Anda Dubinskis, who worked with Second State Press to emboss and to print her shares—which turned out amazing.

In addition, at the suggestion of one of the artists (again, Anda Dubinkskis), we asked all of the artists if they would be interested in making nine extra shares – one for each of the participating CSA artists. Everyone responded with an enthusiastic yes and so each of the CSA artists were also compensated with a gratis CSA Share.  This made for some great stories, like Douglas Witmer saving the most “funky” and provocative paintings for his fellow artists.

RR: Do you feel more value is placed on attracting young sustainable collectors or on building an emerging artist’s reach? Or is this not mutually exclusive?

AS: I believe that these goals are not mutually exclusive and believe that both have been accomplished in part, by this project. The primary goal was always supporting these artists in a new way—one that is outside the traditional commercial gallery model. The project has given some unique visibility to the artists through the press that it has garnered and the range of collectors that they have interacted with is quite varied.  The list of shareholders ranges from first time buyers, artists, arts administrators to established collectors. While providing this range of exposure for the artists, I believe that this model helps to cultivate a more direct and intimate relationship between artist and collector.  Providing the artists with advance funding for their work through the support of the shareholders’ up front investment in the project really seemed to resonate with the artists.

For the artists, it seemed to be significant that the shareholders had invested, not in a specific piece, but rather in the potential of the artist and the work that this project would help generate. This seems to have made for a more reciprocal relationship between artists and collector that ideally has the potential to support future and sustained relationships between the two.

RR: What has been the most memorable event from your inaugural season?

CSM: For me, it would have to be the very first shareholder pick-up.  It was our first event, and the very first shareholder to come in was from New Jersey and in the Coast Guard.  He had heard about the project on the radio (if I recall) and thought it would be an interesting way to get artwork for his home.  I was running around getting the bar set up, but about a half an hour later, I see him deep in conversation with Brent Wahl, one of the artists from the pick-up, and it hit home… we did something really special here.

RR: As individual spaces that came together to produce this project, can you talk about your own individual missions and how this benefits the CSA?

JL: For Grizzly Grizzly, the CSA program helped to affirm our belief in creative programming in addition to or in conjunction with our monthly exhibitions.  As an artist collective, our goal isn’t to repeat what already goes on in museums or galleries, but to create activities that we can do because we are artists and possess outside-the-box thinking.  Interest and enthusiasm for this program has been overwhelming.

As an individual, working in Grizzly Grizzly is an extension of my own artistic practice.  Programs like the CSA are another form of making to me.  Challenges involve creative problem-solving and I utilize many parallel practices from the studio.  It’s rewarding to know that Philadelphia has a community where innovative ideas like Community Supported Art can happen, and flourish.

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