Patrons of The Andy Warhol Museum expect to see a little Marilyn Monroe, some Campbell's soup cans, a picture or two of Elvis. But on June 7, about 50 "shareholders" entered the museum clueless about what artwork they were going to see and take home with them.
They were participating in the first CSA PGH, or Community Sponsored Art. It's a spinoff of the popular movement Community Sponsored Agriculture, in which subscribers regularly receive shares of produce grown on local farms. Starting April 30, Pittsburgh-area art lovers were given the opportunity to buy six "shares" of mystery art produced by six local artists. The cost was $350, and the art was to be distributed three shares at a time at two parties this summer. On June 7, subscribers picked up a box containing three works and got to meet some of the artists at The Warhol.
"It feels like an adult version of Cracker Jack," said shareholder Ayana Ledford of Ross.
CSA PGH's aim is to enrich the local arts community by providing affordable art to the public and to allow local artists to share their work with a large audience. It was a first for Pittsburgh, inspired by similar CSAs in Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Chicago.
"Maybe we don't have a gallery scene like in New York City, but it falls upon the art stakeholders to build that community," said Corey Escoto, a CSA organizer, artist and assistant professor of art and design at Chatham University.
"We see this as a chance to build that community. We see it as a step in the right direction."
The trick was to find 50 people who were willing to spend $350 on artwork they had never seen. Information posted on the CSA website (www.csapgh.com) in March said that the artwork would include a photograph, book, sculpture, print and recording.
The reaction to the project was extremely supportive, said Casey Droege, the CSA project manager. Most of the shares were sold within a few hours and all 50 packages were sold in approximately a month, she added.
Sponsors included Fractured Atlas, Parkhurst Event Catering, The Warhol Museum and the Sprout Fund.
At the first pickup party, the box contained a triangular record, a collection of postcard-sized photographs and a piece of Andy Warhol's shirt.
The record was lathe cut, which means it was cut by hand, by artist David Bernabo. Despite its triangular shape, the grooves are circular and it can be played on any turntable. Ed Panar shot the series of photographs during travels around Pittsburgh. Images include the Pittsburgh skyline, dogs and cats and ordinary scenes. One of the shareholders, Mary Murrin of Point Breeze, said that her favorite photograph was a picture of tennis shoes hanging over a wire because it reminded her of similar scenes from her neighborhood.
The last item was a piece of Andy Warhol's shirt, which artist Lenka Clayton had obtained from the pop art legend's nephew. Ms. Clayton then cut the shirt into 57 parts, and each shareholder was given a piece.
The shareholders, who ranged from casual art lovers to those who have been involved in the arts scene in Pittsburgh for years, seem pleased with their purchases. Ms. Ledford said that each of the works is displayed in her home. She said as a new homeowner the artwork helped her to decorate and served as an instant conversation starter for visitors.
Greg Mutinelli said the piece of the Andy Warhol shirt was his favorite share.
"That for me is just off the charts," he said. "Andy Warhol himself would just flip over."
Some shareholders said they planned to give the artwork as gifts. Ms. Murrin said that she hoped to give some of the pieces to her sons, ages 20, 24 and 26, to start their own art collections. Since they live in New York, Philadelphia and Maryland, they will likely appreciate the Pittsburgh touches, Ms. Murrin said.
The reasons that shareholders participated in the project were as varied as their backgrounds. Some were intrigued by the surprise. Kim Beck, one of the artists whose work has yet to be unveiled, said that she knows one couple who bought their share as an anniversary present to themselves because they like getting boxes with surprises. Several mentioned that it was important to them to help the arts community.
The creators, a mix of emerging and established artists, were given a $1,000 stipend to cover materials, production and labor. All were grateful for the opportunity to participate. Mr. Bernabo said that he has sold about 20 pieces of art in the past few years, so he appreciated the chance to quickly reach 50 people with his art.
Whatever their reason for participation or the level of involvement, all have high hopes for how this project may impact the local arts community. Stakeholder Tracy Certo of Mt. Lebanon said the project created "buzz" with emails and on social media.
The next pickup date will be July 26 at the SPACE gallery, Downtown.
Because all shares were sold this round, there will likely be another round of CSA PGH next year. Those interested in purchasing shares for CSA's next round can visit the website at www.csapgh.com and sign up for the mailing list.
At the first pickup party, the project's organizers celebrated the event's success.
Mr. Escoto glanced around at all the shareholders opening their boxes for the first time, smiled and said:
"It's like Christmas, times 10."
Monica Disare: email@example.com.