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Arts, Sports & Culture

New Pittsburgh CSA Replaces 'Agriculture' with 'Art'

Larkin Page-Jacobs
90.5 WESA

Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, has become common in many cities.

CSA typically refers to a subscription service for fresh produce from local farmers, but a new initiative in Pittsburgh is putting a twist on the concept and replacing “agriculture” with “art.”

A Community Supported Agriculture package might include lettuce, apples, and peppers. But with Community Supported Art, subscribers will unpack a box of sculptures, photographs, drawings or paintings.

Exactly what the box will contain is unknown. CSA organizer and artist liaison Blaine Siegel helped select the artists for the project and said the mystery aspect makes it even more exciting. 

"I think it adds a level of intrigue to it," he said. "Makes you feel like a kid. There’s this mystique, this excitement about it. You know who the artists are, you kind of know their work, but you don’t know what you’re getting until you open up that box. So I think the whole act is very exciting and engaging, so good that they don’t know."

"This seems like a great way to get art out into the world. Especially in a city like Pittsburgh which has so many people who are enthusiastic about art but don’t necessarily have the resources to collect it."

This the first Community Supported Art project in Pittsburgh, although it began in through a program in Minneapolis.

For the inaugural run, six artists will create 50 works  – one for each of the 50 subscriptions, called "shares," that will be made available to buyers.

"The public can buy one of these shares for $350," said project manager Casey Droege. "They’ll be dispersed over two pick-up events, and when they come to pick it up they’ll get a box full of artwork."

While $350 isn’t pocket change, Siegel said that for original art, it’s a bargain.

"The value is tremendous," he said. "Any one of these pieces could sell for $350, but you’re getting six for that price."

The idea of making art more accessible is echoed by artist Kim Beck.

“This seems like a great way to get art out into the world," she said. "Especially in a city like Pittsburgh, which has so many people who are enthusiastic about art but don’t necessarily have the resources to collect it.”

When she is not drawing or working on installation art, Beck teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. She is one of the artists whose work will be made available to CSA subscribers. Without getting too specific, she said her contribution will be based on images found in old fashioned and out-of-date books.

“They might have fantastic diagrams of someone’s footsteps while they’re learning to swing a tennis racket," Beck said, "or some information about how to use a modem with your telephone to dial up this newfound thing called 'the Internets.'”

Photographer Ed Panar will also have work in the Community Supported Art package. His images depict Pittsburgh streetscapes, rivers and houses tucked into hillsides. He said he walks everywhere shooting photos. His goal is to cover between 50 and 100 miles a month.

“My theory was I wanted to flatten Pittsburgh out by walking all over it,” Panar said.

Connecting local artists with buyers is another impetus for the project, and Panar explained that because he works alone, he looked forward to interacting with people who find his art in their CSA share and may want more of it.

If this project is successful, Droege said CSA plans to continue and expand with more artists and more shares.

“We like to say we’re feeding Pittsburgh’s cultural appetite, so hopefully we’re going to create more of a cultural appetite as well,” she said.

What if subscribers are unsatisfied with the artwork they receive? The organizers admit they do not expect everyone to love every single piece. Droege suggested gifting or re-selling, but Seigel recommended that a buyer live with the work for a while and make it part of the household before giving up on it.

“Once they’re a part of your home, things change and relationships develop,” Seigel said.

CSA artists include:

  • Kim Beck
  • Lenka Clayton
  • David Bernabo
  • William Kofmehl
  • Alexi Morrisey
  • Ed Panar

The Sprout Fund provided initial funding for the project. Shares of Community Supported Art go on sale April 30 at CSAPGH.com.