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On Food: FEAST! invites a community to dinner and reinvents the financing of art

   /   Nov 24th, 2010Food, News

In the back of a candle-lit church basement in Brooklyn, eight groups of artists recently presented their work to 200 people. This quarterly dinner party — hosted by FEAST (Funding Emerging Artists with Sustainable Tactics) — was created to help community members re-imagine how art is financed and experienced. FEAST turns a church basement into a dining room, invites the neighborhood to the table, and provides grants of $1,000 to sweeten the pot.

“People noticed that the art world is really dependent on large corporations that were hurting because of the financial crisis, but [we were] also lamenting that relationship in the first place,” FEAST volunteer Emily Sogn said. “We were thinking about drawing on community resources in the hope that there were a lot of people with similar interests.”

This is how it works: dinner guests donate $10 to $20 at the door. Some of Brooklyn’s best restaurants donate signature dishes. Diners mingle with artists who present project ideas. The group votes on which project to fund — and the selected artist goes home with money to realize his or her vision — plus an audience that is anticipating its creation.

On this particular night, guests sat side-by-side along three banquet tables, chatting with artists over heaping plates of leek and bacon mac-and-cheese, chicken liver pate, eggnog ice cream, and bottles of Brooklyn Lager.

Presenters included artists Geddes Levenson and Annie Blazejack, who were hoping to use the grant to fund the Mali Health Organizing Project through an art marathon; musicians from The Knights orchestra were seeking to engage audiences in collaborative music making; and members of FarmCity U.S. presented their idea to start an urban agriculture exposition and world’s fair.

Jon Cohrs and Elisa Giardina won the $1,000 for a documentary project called The Spice Trade Expedition. They’ll film a two-week canoe trip down the New Jersey wetlands, home to some of the world’s largest artificial flavoring factories — factories that give processed foods their signature tastes — from Cheetos to french fries to the simulated flavor of charcoal broiled beef. The artists are hoping to examine the country’s food artifice, highlighting the disconnect between the natural world and the manufactured food we often eat. You can follow their journey here.

Dinner guests also get to taste the fruits of the previous FEAST. The last winner, ViBe SongMakers, took the stage to present their completed project. ViBe selected six teenage girls to work with professional mentors for a year culminating in the production of a professionally recorded album. This year the group will be using their grant from FEAST to put on a live show.

To date, FEAST has raised some $13,000 for 20 art projects. But the model, first employed by a Chicago arts collective called InCUBATE has been replicated around the globe. To see if a feast event may be coming up in your city, click here.

Photo: Sarah Kuck

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