If you're interested in the locavore movement, you're likely familiar with the concept of community-supported agriculture. CSAs, as they're known, are farms that sell seasonal shares, and then deliver a weekly or biweekly basket of produce to customers. Typically, the customer pays up front in late winter or early spring, before the harvesting begins, then receives a variety of whatever that particular farm has harvested that week. It's a wonderful opportunity for folks who like to eat locally and who prefer organic food, and it provides an element of suspense, not knowing what you'll receive week to week. But if you're a picky eater who doesn't enjoy kohlrabi or green beans — or if you're one of those people who want to eat what you want when you want it — it may not be for you.
Local art organization Seed Space has adapted the CSA model to the art world, in a program called CSArt Nashville. Inspired by curator Shannon Stratton, who developed a similar program at Chicago's threewalls gallery, Seed Space is making Nashville the fourth city in the country to begin a program that incorporates CSA structure into art consumption.
Perhaps you were one of the 35,000 people who received an email inviting you to participate in CSArt, or you've seen the Hatch Show Print poster promoting the project. If not, here is your entrance into the discussion on the latest experiment conducted by the appropriately named Seed Space, an art organization that calls itself "a lab for site specific installation, sculpture, and performance-based art." Under the leadership of artist Adrienne Outlaw, Seed Space has hosted public talks, housed internationally recognized art critics and curators, and organized some of Nashville's most original contemporary art installations since its inception in 2010.
If you want to join CSArt, you are given two options. For $250, you can purchase a half-share, and on Dec. 10 you will receive a crate including five original works by five local artists; or you can buy an entire share for $500 and get two crates, one provided on Dec. 10, the other on Feb. 11. The Feb. 11 crate will offer original work by five different artists than those you received in the Dec. 10 crate.
When you make the commitment, there is no turning back, no return policy, and no indication of what you will get. This is, in short, a gamble. So far, 10 entire shares have been sold — that's $5,000 in contemporary art sold in less than two weeks. Also noteworthy is the fact that of all the customers to date, Outlaw says she knows only one of them personally.
Clearly CSArt has been stirring up quite a buzz. I received an email from Outlaw about the inauguration of Nashville's CSArt on Oct. 7, and by the time I finished reading the email, two friends had forwarded the announcement to me — one from Point Reyes, Calif., and the other from Detroit. Small world.
Why has the initial response to the project been so strong? After all, the artworks involved are unknown to the buyers until they pick up their crates at the drop-off point in the parking lot in front of Seed Space, in the old May Hosiery Mill building on Chestnut Avenue.
First, perhaps this is an indication that today's consumers are drawn to buying mystery and open to surprise. And second, it's a great deal. The artists on the list — Vesna Pavlovic, Mike Calway-Fagen, Derek Coté, Herb Williams, Lesley Patterson-Marx, Emily Leonard, Sher Fick, Jodi Hays, Nicole Baumann and Ryan Hogan — make museum- and collector-quality art, and the works are entirely new and original. Third, the sheer volume of artworks you receive in CSArt is enough to keep you busy contemplating where you will fit it all. And finally, it makes people feel good to support not just one but several local artists all at once. This is the American mindset, after all.
I could keep going — I have a lot of guesses as to why people are feeding off this experiment. But I have no idea how it will turn out.
Best case scenario: In 2018, a Nashville Scene writer will preface an art review with: "At one point in the not-too-distant past, people bought art very slowly, highly selectively — or not at all. Typically, the majority would settle for mass-produced art, replicas of the same images that hung on a million other walls." And a young precocious child will lift her head from her high-tech reading device and ask her parents, "Did you guys really used to buy art like that? That is so old-fashioned."
Worst-case scenario: People won't be enthusiastic about the concept of buying art the way CSA members buy vegetables. And places like Seed Space will return to the drawing board.
The most positive aspect of this project is that it demonstrates that contemporary art communities are continually experimenting and evolving, and furthermore, that Nashville's art scene is eager to be on the leading edge of an exciting new trend.