by: Jennifer Paulding
Puddles and potholes are just not a good combination. Really, they aren’t, especially when there’s a deep one lurking outside your car door, waiting for you to step right into it, right before your interview. But have you ever looked at your reflection in a puddle? It’s plentiful. Many parts of it are aesthetically pleasing. The lines in your reflection lengthen, loop, refract, and rejoice to create a wholesome yet empty image of self. As I got lost in my reflection, I reveled in my thoughts and asked myself mid stare- “Is it ever going to stop raining?”
For the founder and lead organizer of Durham’s Open Art Society, Jessica N. Moore, perhaps the rain has already cleared for the evolution and prosperity of her organization’s latest program, a Community Supported Art Program called “Welcome: Art in Your Home.”
Moore studied art and art administration in Chapel Hill and Chicago, worked at the Arts Center in Carrboro, as well as the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Scrap Exchange. “I studied art, I love art; I kind of make it for my own enjoyment and stress relief,” she added as she continued to talk about Open Art Society’s numerous projects. “I really enjoy it,” she said. “I get to see the art from the idea and get to really work more with the artists.”
The Open Art Society is a hub for artists and communities to create projects that embrace the arts as a way to develop new idea and solve community-related issues. Officially formed in 2013 brainstorming began in January of that year, Open Art Society emerged from the growing popularity of the Durham Storefront Project. Immediately people reached out to the organization, many of whom were interested in formulating similar projects within their communities.
Open Art Society has had multiple successes in its wide-ranging projects; in addition to the many successful years of the Durham Storefront Project, there was Pop! Fuquay-Varina. It has also received sponsorship from prominent associations such as Downtown Durham Inc. and renown local businesses like Jewelsmith of Durham.
Meanwhile, Moore had been working on other projects trying to figure out new ways for artists to display and sell their art. This drew her towards digging more into a growing interest she had in Community Supported Art Programs or CSAs. And strengthened by these triumphs and the community support, the Open Art Society has introduced the Triangle to its first ever, very own, Community Supported Art Program.
The country’s first ever CSA was developed in Minneapolis, Minnesota by an organization similar to Open Art Society called Spring Board for the Arts; its Community Supported Art program generated such heightened success, that a replication kit was developed so that other alike organizations across the country could form their own CSA. Community Supported Art is modeled around community-support agriculture.
The idea is for one season long price a CSA member gets art from all of that seasons artists.
In Moore’s Durham program there was no cap on the size or the medium of the work; it can be just about any size and range anywhere from being a painting or photograph, to a sculpture, screen print, or even video art. Every community carries its own culture, allowing for varying interests to push their CSAs’ available medium opportunities from folksy to funky, and art everywhere in between.
Seven artists were chosen to produce 50 copies of one piece of artwork. In order to collect work from these seven artists, one must sign up for the full membership which is $250. The membership includes the complete purchase of all seven works. Membership commissions go directly the artists, frequently buying the materials needed to create their pieces. “It’s more about the actual process of what it takes for that art to come to be and kind of supporting that whole process so people are buying it before they actually see the art,” Jessica explained. “They just know that it’s an artist that creates good work.”
What sparked founder Moore’s interest in CSAs was the synergy produced between working with artists to create art in public spaces while also enabling them to create art that allows them to remain focused on their individual needs. “Thinking about the idea of open platforms,” Moore explained, “provides ways that people can take their ideas, share ideas and have them evolve just through openness and collaboration.”
“I was thinking about how to make art accessible, both in terms of removing barriers for people to view the art, and also making it enjoyable,” she added. “I wanted to take away this perception that it’s[art] an elitist and things like that.” She speaks with many different people about the numerous ways art can work for them. “That’s another important element for people to think about and to understand,” Moore explained. “Having art involved in communities shouldn’t always have to start with artists, it can start with other people who have that interest. I want to encourage different people in different positions to take it on.”
The Community Supported Art Program was girded by Moore’s tireless community engagement. It was real engagement, dialogue, rooted in her genuine desire to know what people think, what they want out of art and how they feel it can make a difference. Moore still spends a large amount of time reaching out to communities, speaking with business owners, other organizations, individual artists, and of course, the general public.
Open Art Society’s CSA, “Welcome: Art in Your Home” is one of the only thirty to forty CSA’s across the country. Instead of buying art at a gallery or directly from the artist, it provides a dynamic new way of buying art, placing more emphasis on the connection, artist to community, that goes into creating the artwork.
“It’s taken me most of this year,” Moore replied after I had asked how long the project had been going on, “I gave myself a lot of time because of doing promotion, making sure there was time to figure out how everything works and of course the artists need time to make the work.”
The call for artists was launched in December of 2013. The call received more than 25 submissions where artists offered resumes, images of previous work, bios, artist statements, and outlines and sketches of their ideas. A few people had been previously working on a piece so they utilized the program as a positive format to see their project through, while others found it as an outlet to tap into mediums and ideas they had yet to explore. The seven final artists were selected in March of this year by a panel of art enthusiasts, local business owners, and professional curators.
“It’s been an interesting process,” Moore explained. “There’s been really good positive response and there’s been a lot of questioning of the idea which is expected of a new idea.” She does outreach at local farmer’s markets and other community events and spaces, including “Rebus Works,” a gallery and frame shop located in Raleigh and the “Artist’s Talk” at the Frank Gallery in Chapel Hill. The outreach explains the incentive behind the CSA, enlightening people about community buying power and its effect art, about the unique opportunities behind the program’s powerful ability to support artists.
Like Community Supported Agriculture where members know they are getting food, but not what, when “Welcome: Art in Your Home” members sign up, they have no concrete idea what art they are purchasing. Some may ask “Why?” while others would say, “That’s beautiful.”
Members finally get to see what it is that they purchased at Pickup Events. They receive four of their purchased artworks at the first pickup event and at the second, they receive the other three.
There are two pickup events that occur during the season. The first pickup event was held at Mercury Studio in Durham, NC, Saturday, September 13, and the second will take place at Steel String Brewery in Carrboro, NC in October. “One of the other really exciting things about this is the artists involved all have a bunch of new people collecting their work,” Moore added.
I asked if this was something that will continue every year. “I think it would be great to start doing this at least once a year or twice,” she replied. “The more frequently you do it, the more artists you are supporting with it.”
As an art enthusiast myself, it was really quite heartwarming to hear about the feedback that Open Art Society has continued to receive not only from the CSA but from all of its projects. During its project Pop! Fuquay-Varina, Moore helped with installations and during the physical process, people continuously stopped by and asked what was going on; they were filled with joy and relief to see others from all over The Triangle coming together to create and install art into empty storefronts, based on their town’s water-filled history.
I looked down at my favorite pair of espresso brown, laced-up boots and pondered about how my feet were still wet and kind of cold. As deeply aggravating as wet socks can be, I suppressed the soaked socks and continued to soak up the illuminating information Moore was able to happily provide me regarding the past, present, and future of Open Art Society.
By the end of our conversation, I had just one question left for the founder of one of the Triangle’s most amazing outlets for art and art lovers. “What is art to you?”
“Art is a different perspective of life,” she replied and then paused to gather her thoughts for a second. “I think it’s a reflection of our society- it’s something to be enjoyed.”
And now the rain also had cleared for me as well. Knowing that Community Supported Art programs like this one in particular exist. They are just as precious as puddles; they reflect the need to provide a way for people to engage in the ideas and issues that shape the places they live in- through art.
Jennifer Paulding is a former New Yorker who recently has made her way to the Triangle to create that ultimate “next chapter in life.” Her interests include abstract painting, photography and playing the electric violin in a local folk band. By day, she works at a startup company as their web editor and marketing specialist, while by night, she explores this new place called home, enjoying the company of new friends, the Durty Durham Art Collective, and the fun, optimistic vibe of the community.