It's Saturday afternoon outside Somerville's Block 11 Café, and a mix of long-time arts supporters and suburban thirtysomethings are mingling, eating free cookies, and eyeing a stack of 50 cardboard boxes. Inside each box is a crop of fresh local produce: the first of three shares of sculptures, photos, paintings, and prints they'll pick up this season.
"CSA" usually stands for "Community Supported Agriculture," an increasingly popular way to eat fresh greens and support local farms. But here the letters stand for something different: "Community Supported Art." Organized by the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE) with a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the program is inspired by a similar effort in Minnesota last year. Instead of buying into harvests of organic fruits and vegetables, shareholders pay a one-time fee of $300 for nine original pieces by local artists.
Just as with farm shares, art shares are a risk — but one worth taking, says participating artist James Zall. "You might not like the brussels sprouts, but you'll like something," he explains.
Susan and Dennis McHugh, from Chelmsford, peel a red "CSA 2011" sticker from their box, unwrapping yellow tissue paper to reveal today's share: a miniature clay sculpture swaddled in tan cloth and twine by Kate Martens; a black-and-white photo book by Zall; plus an acrylic-on-board painting by Christopher Poteet.
Nearby, Jaffrie Perrotti stands with his wife, Sheila, as Poteet explains the symbolism and themes in his paintings. Perrotti is delighted. "His picture makes sense now, and you can't get that from buying a painting off the wall of a gallery," he says. The newlywed Charlestown couple joined CSArt after a daunting gallery shopping experience.
"Thanks for letting us inside of your mind," Perrotti tells Poteet.
For Poteet, this is his first time meeting the buyers of his art. "Usually I'd just get an e-mail from the gallery," he says.
"Sometimes you'll get a copy of the invoice," adds Zall.
CSArt fixes a long-running "disconnect" between local artists and consumers in Boston, says Poteet.
"There's no reason anyone in Somerville should buy art from Ikea or online. . . . That would be like starving in a fertile valley," says Poteet. "And if you lived in a valley of apple trees, you wouldn't buy apples from South America."
All are welcome to attend the next harvest party on September 22, 5-7 pm at the Kendall Square Eastern Bank branch, One Broadway, Cambridge.