ASC’s community arts subscriber program delivers local art to patrons

If you’re a member of a community-supported agriculture co-op, you get regular installments of a farmer’s seasonal harvest. When you join a community-supported arts co-op, you don’t know what’s been freshly picked for you, either.

At the Arts and Science Council’s first community-supported agriculture event of its second season, Ben Thorman described the strategy to unwrapping a gift basket filled with original art. He was preparing to open his share of fresh art – three original works by local artists. The unwrapping must be done at the event, he says, and in the presence of friends.

He and the other 50 CSA members never know what they’ll get to unwrap. But the suspense is part of why they signed on.

Thorman doesn’t describe himself as an art collector, but he and his wife, Sandi, seem to qualify. They regularly attend gallery crawls, buy art from local galleries and planned a trip to Asheville to primarily focus on art galleries.

Why would such a seasoned collector need to enroll in a program that will net him more art?

“A lot of these artists, we wouldn’t know about unless we stumbled onto their studios,” he says. The CSA provides an easy introduction. This is the second year the Thormans have bought a $500 membership. That means they acquired nine pieces at three CSA events last year. “And every piece is on display,” Thorman says.

ASC’s artistic take on the agricultural model is part of a national trend. The program allows emerging – and veteran – collectors to build their collections. It also allows artists and patrons to meet and build a relationship.

Artists have to apply, and arts professionals pick nine. About 40 artists applied to be part of this season’s crop. ASC vice president Katherine Mooring says the selection panel ensures that each season has a mix of painters, ceramicists, photographers and more. The program gives a $2,000 commission to nine artists who create 50 limited-edition works to be given out at three events.

The most recent reception, at LaCa Projects, featured food, drinks and a mellow guitarist. It was Tonya Bruce’s first CSA event. She and her husband, Daunte, are among 31 new CSA members who joined 19 returning members from last season. The couple has supported the arts for years, but they are just beginning their own collection.

Tonya Bruce said each piece would get a place of honor in their home. “It’s not a matter of if they’re going up,” she said of Scott Partridge’s mounted digital print of tropical fish, Amy Sanders’ ceramic bowl and Lauren Doran’s photograph from her “Garden of Shadows” series. “It’s where they’re going.”

Val Mittl, a first-time member, unwrapped her harvest, along with the Thormans, and was delighted to discover a bowl by her former pottery teacher, Amy Sanders. Mittl was already a fan of Sanders’ work and was excited to add another piece to her collection.

Sanders was excited to see her former student and meet new patrons. She shows her work at galleries, but relishes the chance to introduce a new audience to her pottery.

She appreciates CSA members’ blind trust. “CSA members sign on not knowing what they’re going to get,” she says. “They have faith in the artist.”