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‘Crusade for Art’ Is On a Mission to Connect Emerging Photographers with Art Buyers

crusade_for_artCrusade for Art on Squarespace

Heather Evans Smith

“Breathe Me In” from the series The Heart and The Heavy by Heather Evans Smith, a commissioned CSA photographer.

In a time when being an artist is at once a fleeting concept (due to competition from an increasing number of artists and less government support for the arts) and one full of potential (due to increasing opportunities made possible by social media), where does one begin to fund a project? Jennifer Schwartz of Crusade for Art is on a mission, trying to piece together the puzzle by connecting emerging photographers with collectors and galleries — one art CSA at a time – as well as providing grant opportunities for new projects.

As part of our partnership with Squarespace, where we interview creatives in the photography world who are using their templates, we caught up with the gallerist-turned-arts-evangelist who told us why now is the time for art and what we can do to protect it.

What need did you see in your community for Crusade for Art? How does this work correlate with the work you were doing at your gallery?

When I opened my gallery at the beginning of 2009, I hung photographs on the walls and opened the doors, and then said, “where is everybody?” And the people who were coming in weren’t buyers; they were other photographers who wanted to get their work on the walls. So I had to do a lot of thinking about who I needed to target, what connection points I had to them, and what obstacles I had to get around to reach them. I realized there was a large pool of educated, engaged, culturally-minded people who were not buying art but perhaps would if given the right (exciting, experience-driven, non-intimidating) exposure to it. I developed a lot of unique programs and events to build the collector base for the gallery, and it worked.

Over the years, I became more and more passionate about audience engagement and how to cultivate new collectors for photography. I began working with individual photographers to go through the same process of identifying their target audience and creating innovative ways to connect with potential collectors. I also wanted to go to other communities and reach out to people who were not even seeking an arts experience and facilitate an opportunity for them to connect with artists and their work. That impulse turned into the Crusade for Collecting Tour, which was a tipping point for me, in terms of really dedicating myself to bringing new audiences to photography.

When I was on the tour, I gave talks in each of the cities I visited, and a lot of photographers talked to me about how they had not given thought to what to do with their work after they made it. I wanted to get a large volume of photographers to think about connecting people to their work, to creating demand for their art, and that was the genesis of the Crusade Engagement Grant – a $10,000 award to a photographer (or group of photographers or project coordinator) with the most innovative program idea to connect people to photography. I also decided to transition the tour from a one-off project to a non-profit organization dedicated to creating demand for photography, and I closed the gallery at the end of last year to focus on Crusade for Art full-time.

Thomas-Jackson-2

“Post-it Notes No. 1” from the series Emergent Behavior by Thomas Jacksona commissioned CSA photographer.

I love the idea of the CSA program (as modeled off agricultural CSAs).  Tell me more about the program and what the response has been like in the community and from photographers.

I knew about the art CSA model (there are about 40 active art CSAs in the US, an idea that was first launched by Minnesota’s Springboard for the Arts) and felt photography was a perfect medium for it. I also felt strongly about doing it through Crusade for Art to show a model that benefits artists as well as collectors and is easily replicable. It works like this: We offered 50 shares to the public for $350 per share and commissioned six photographers to create an original piece in an edition of 50. Shareholders receive one photograph from each photographer over the course of six months.

I selected six photographers who are dedicated to their art practice and whose work is consistently strong. They were given free reign on the creation of their piece, although I did encourage them to make something that was very much in line with the rest of their work but also accessible to a wide audience. Each photographer receives $2000 to create their piece, and Crusade for Art handles all of the packaging and shipping. They also get 50 new collectors! Shareholders get six original, signed photographs at an affordable price, plus the fun of a surprise (two photographs) in the mail every other month.

The response has been incredibly positive from all sides. The shares sold out in two days! I have received a ton of emails from people asking to be notified right away when the next CSA launches so they can buy a share before they sell out. Photographers are also reaching out, asking to be considered for the next round.

Kerry-Mansfield

From the series Expired by Kerry Mansfielda commissioned CSA photographer.

Do you find it difficult to raise the proceeds to support the CSA program in this economic climate?

Fortunately, the CSA is a break-even program for us, after selling all of the shares, paying the photographers’ commission, and packing and shipping the work. We do rely on private donations to fund the grant and our general operating costs, and fundraising is always challenging, I think. But I believe in our mission and in doing good for the photographic community, and I hope others will want to support that, at any level of giving. (And if so, please donate here!) Also, all of the fees for consulting and all of the profits from sales of our book, Crusade For Your Art: Best Practices for Fine Art Photographers, go back into the non-profit (not to me personally), so you can help yourself and help photography at the same time!

Joshua Meier

“Natural Forces” by Joshua Meiera commissioned CSA photographer.

I like that the language you use calls for a sense of urgency in saving the arts. Why now?

We are at the precipice of a crisis in our art. Prodigious effort is going into programs and initiatives that create supply – opportunities to educate artists and help them create and exhibit work — which is resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of fine art photographers and huge volumes of their art. Little support focuses on creating a demand for this art. Demand is not keeping up with supply, and if not corrected, will create a huge imbalance where there is an abundance of art but no audience for it. Crusade for Art is dedicated to cultivating demand for art.

Through funding, mentoring, educating, and inspiring, we strive to empower photographers to take their careers by the reigns and develop innovative plans to build their audiences. Helping emerging photographers get a foothold in the art world is just one piece of the puzzle, because that is exactly what it is: a foothold. Once that foothold feels secure, and the artist begins to gain traction – exhibitions, collectors, positive exposure – she needs to take the next step. The same is true for collectors. I love bringing someone from a place where they had never really considered what hung on their walls to appreciating original art and wanting to seek out pieces they feel a connection to. Helping someone start on a path of appreciating, patronizing and collecting art is incredibly exciting and rewarding. Engaging introductions to art are crucial to developing a more sustainable arts ecology.

Shane Lavalette

From the series One Sun, One Shadow by Shane Lavalette, a commissioned CSA photographer.

What do you think advocates of art in other communities can do?

Arts advocates in every community can create and implement programs to facilitate connections between artists, their work, and would-be collectors. We need to think about what is holding people back from engaging with art (intimidation, lack of knowledge, a misperception that art is not affordable or fun) and factor those obstacles into our planning. Because art is awesome, and art makes life beautiful, and art sells itself, once that ball starts rolling.

Our focus for the rest of 2014 is getting some local chapters up and running. While Crusade for Art provides resources and inspiration, the goal is to empower photographers to activate and begin implementing ideas and programs at a local level to create demand for their work. Independent, volunteer Crusade for Art chapters around the country are the ground force of the movement. The chapters are provided with the program guidelines, best practices, support, logo, and brand of Crusade for Art, as well as use local resources and creative talent to develop new programs. Local chapters create and implement programs and events that both create exposure opportunities for their artist members and cultivate new collectors within their communities.

Now on to another topic: your web presence. Why did you go with the Squarespace platform?

I’ve known about Squarespace for a while, but had never really dug into their offerings. Someone connected us to them, thinking there could be some partnership potential. At that point I spent some time on their site and was really impressed. I decided to set up a trial and play around a bit, and before I knew it, I had rebuilt the entire Crusade for Art site and loved it!

What do you like most about using the platform?

I have built a few WordPress sites and have experience with several other platforms. Squarespace is hands-down the most user-friendly without sacrificing any functionality. And the customer service is mind-blowing. Truly. Any question, any time of day or night, and Squarespace responds within the hour. The customer service is a dream.

How do you feel that your website design corresponds with the message you are trying to spread?

I wanted something that looked clean, professional and creative, and I think the Squarespace templates nail it.

What Squarespace template did you use for the website?

Dovetail.

Did you make any modifications to the template?

No, not many. The template allows you to make a lot of stylistic choices, so different template users can create sites that look completely unique.

Squarespace is a Feature Shoot sponsor.

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