Hage currently organizes Feast Mass with Nerissa Cooney, 27, his partner in the graphic-design collective Golden Arrows — founded when the pair couldn't find work after graduating from Boston University in 2009. The recession provided "an incentive to create [our] own opportunities," says Cooney. Similarly, in an unstable economy, Feast's co-organizers "wanted to do something that they had more control over," Hage says.

Traditional arts grants cater to full-time visual artists, adds Cooney, whereas community-based micro-grants are accessible to all. Some of the artists who have won Feast grants "wouldn't necessarily qualify for larger arts grants or Mass Arts Council grants," she says. "For a lot of those, you need to submit your artist résumé with the shows you've been in."

Grant winners at the most recent Feast Mass included City Life/Vida Urbana, for a public art project in which a group of Bostonians facing foreclosure will project their stories onto a downtown Bank of America storefront; and Publication Studio Boston, a new book-making studio affiliated with an international collective of independent presses. In 2010, they funded the Boston Food Truck Festival and the "Girls Who Rock" after-school club at East Somerville Community School.


The Awesome Foundation also has similar goals — to champion projects that might otherwise go unfunded. For example: a recent mural project in Mission Hill by local graffiti artist Caleb Neelon. "Caleb is an internationally renowned graffiti artist who is based in Boston, and he had never done a wall here," trustee Kara Brickman says. "Here's this guy who is getting flown out to Brazil and China to people who love his work. . . . He was a really well-respected symbol in the scene, but in Boston, he'd never been given the opportunity to do this amazing thing."

Founded in 2009, the Foundation's idea is simple: 10 "micro-trustees" get together once a month, and everyone throws down 100 bucks. Proposals for "awesome" projects are submitted through a seven-question online form, and each month a $1000 grant is issued. The micro-granting endeavor has since spread to at least 25 loosely associated autonomous chapters around the world.

"We're trying to make it easier for people who need just a small boost of money," says Xu, who is also co-founder/chancellor of the Institute on Higher Awesome Studies, a nonprofit dedicated to incubating and developing Awesome Foundations. Submitting a traditional grant proposal is an "arduous and structured process," says Xu. "There are people who get their entire undergraduate degree in grant making. That's crazy. The average person who has lots of great ideas doesn't necessarily know where to start with that."

The Cambridge Center for Adult Education's new art-share program is also doing its part to make arts more inclusive to all. CSArt — the CS stands for "Community Supported" — provides "shareholders" with fresh installments of sculptures, photos, paintings, and prints throughout a season. For $300, shareholders receive nine original pieces by local artists; the artists receive stipends and free classes at the CCAE. The project started earlier this year, inspired by a similar effort in Minnesota.

"The money is almost more of, like, a lubricant," says Hage. Ultimately, the connections built are "just as important, if not more important than the actual money." It's "incentive for us to keep doing it," adds Cooney. "It's exciting to see that network grow."

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Related: Somerville's first artshare delivers, Probing the pain of urban violence, Building a better world, by design, More more >
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