A s residents of the Hudson Valley, many of us are familiar with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and have benefited from the many wonderful offerings in the area showcasing our regional bounty. Over the years, these programs have become an increasing popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal foods and support their farms.
One local organization has taken this winning model and spun it into something new and exciting that will help support artists who may be experiencing hard times with the impact that Corona virus has had on the local art market. The Barrett Art Center, located on Noxon Street in downtown Poughkeepsie, is offering buyers the opportunity to help support the arts by purchasing a share in their CSA program. But, instead of an edible basket of local products, buyers will receive a feast for the eyes—a collection of original art.
Barrett has carefully selected nine local artists who each received a substantial commission to create forty works of art. These works, by both emerging and some well-established artists, will be sold in the form of forty shares to the Hudson Valley community. Each share will consist of one piece from each of the nine artists and will be delivered in the fall of 2020. Shares will be distributed at an event for shareholders only that enables the participating artists and their patrons to meet, connect and learn how this commission impacted their lives. With the uncertainly of what the coming months will look like, plans are also in the works for exploring curbside pickup and even possible local delivery.
About the CSA program, Joanna Frang, Barrett’s Executive Director said, “This is an exciting model of art support and distribution that will hopefully establish lasting relationships between collectors and patrons. We have a wonderful cadre of talented artists that range from up-and-coming artists to some of the area’s luminaries, as well.” Artists include Poughkeepsie-born designer and ceramicist Angelo Estrada, founder of Estrada Designs, which creates one-of-a-kind art pieces that include handmade elements with sustainability in mind. The Covid-19 crisis has put his exhibition plans on hold and curtailed his ability to connect with and teach his students. Mr. Estrada is excited about this homegrown approach to igniting the local arts market, noting “It is important to support local artists because art creates energy and drive within communities. We need that now more than ever.”
The pandemic has also impacted the work of Monica Church, a photographer and painter forced to cancel work trips to Vietnam and Cambodia, Ireland, Scotland and New Orleans, Louisiana. While Ms. Church laments that “all of the resources I rely on have been closed including galleries, photography labs, and art supply stores,” she also adds that “I have been impressed with the arts community moving to online spaces and rallying.”
Echoing Church’s comments on the impact that these events have had on access to resources, Joan Belmar, a painter and 3D artist said he, too, is feeling the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has affected his ability to purchase materials, and even food. He is excited to participate in Barrett’s CSA as a way to connect shareholders to art, and art, he notes, “brings communities passion, new concepts, and beauty in all its forms. It opens our minds and lifts our spirit.” Belmar is a well-established and recognized international artist who calls Poughkeepsie home; his works are in the collections of the Microsoft Corporation; University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor; and the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines.
“We are so lucky that Poughkeepsie is blessed with a deep field of talented artists who are working in a wide array of disciplines available to participate in this project, and we recognized the need do something for them right now. While members of the Barrett team are volunteering to organize this initiative, this isn’t a fundraiser for us, this is about supporting local artists in an immediate and impactful way,” notes Ms. Frang. The program is intended to be self-sustaining and is not a fundraiser for the center rather an opportunity to get funds into the hands of working artists at a time when they need it most. Tom Elliman, Barrett Board Chair and Associate Professor at Vassar College, says, “We believe that artists must be compensated for their time and talent—especially right now. The majority of the income generated from this CSA goes directly to the artists, only a very small portion is used for marketing and administrative costs. Like all of our programs, we want to provide the community with the highest quality programming without sacrificing our goal of compensating working artists. We have an amazing small team of two volunteers who, along with Joanna and me, have pulled this all together quickly.”
These programs also understood that artists’ work also inspired a local sense of community and stimulated creativity all around. Our region, with its close connections to Franklin Delano Roosevelt has reaped the benefits of programs like this in the past and has rich connections to the WPA. In fact, the Barrett Art Center’s building was once the home and studio of artists Thomas W. Barrett Jr, a WPA artist.
Thomas Weeks Barrett Jr was born in Poughkeepsie, in 1902. He attended Poughkeepsie schools and somewhere between the city and his grandfather’s farm outside of town, he discovered his love for art. After graduating from the art school of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Barrett worked in NYC as a commercial artist with clients that included Macy’s and House Beautiful magazine.
With the stock market crash of 1929, Thomas returned to his family home in Poughkeepsie and set up shop in a studio on the third floor. In 1934, Barrett organized Dutchess County’s first art exhibition at the Luckey Platt Department Store in Poughkeepsie. Over 2,000 visitors attended on the opening day. Encouraged by the show’s success, Barrett and his colleagues founded the Dutchess County Art Association in 1935.
Franklin D Roosevelt’s administration organized comprehensive programs like the Treasury Relief Art Project, the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Art Project to employ artists to create art for the communities in which they lived. In the case of public murals, federal programs underwrote an artist’s labor costs and communities provided materials or raised funds to purchase materials. Thomas Barrett was employed through these programs as a muralist, completing a large, four-panel mural for the interior of Millbrook High School in 1936.
Barrett’s CSA program is a continuation of the WPA’s notion of community building through the arts paired with local economic stimulus and embodies the “Buy Local” ethos. Barrett’s Community Supported Art program is an adaptation of the successful Community Supported Art program in Minneapolis/St. Paul which was created by www.mnartists.org and Springboard for the Arts and came to the attention of local artist Barrett’s Community Supported Art program is an adaptation of the successful Community Supported Art program in Minneapolis/St. Paul which was created by Anita Fina Kiewra. Through her arts outreach work with Hudson River Housing, local artist Anita Fina Kiewra learned about this model for developing new collectors and supporting local artists when she travelled to Arizona as part of a NeighborWorks America grant awarded to Hudson River Housing.
Social service agency leaders from across the country shared strategies to integrate the arts into programming to improve the holistic health of communities. Kiewra brought the idea to Barrett Art Center and in the wake of the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 health crisis.
Barrett’s Art Based CSA program creates multiple beneficiaries: artists who are paid a fair amount for their work; art collectors and people who love the idea of an “art sample” surprise; the local economy; and the community, which is enriched by the presence of a vibrant arts community committed to uplifting their neighbors through art and beauty in difficult times. If you are interested in learning more about the program or to sign up for one the remaining shares, visit www.barrettartcenter.org/csa. Barrett Art Center will be streaming three live discussions with some of the participating artist throughout June and July. Information about the talks can be found on the Barrett website as well.