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Valley arts groups get creative with do-it-yourself fundraising



Last modified: Thursday, September 06, 2012
It's a constant battle in the arts: finding sources of funding, whether for staging a concert, putting on a play or producing a portfolio of paintings.

But instead of writing grant proposals to foundations and other funding sources and hoping they'll come through, some local artists and supporters are turning to the do-it-yourself model.

For longtime jazz promoter and aficionado Glenn Siegel, the model for financing area jazz shows came from the Valley's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, in which members purchase a share in a farm's harvest, getting a weekly supply of vegetables or other produce. Why not use that same principle, Siegel thought, and create a system in which people buy a share in a series of jazz concerts?

Meanwhile, Julia Handschuh, who a few years ago started Valley Art Share (VAS), an online resource for artists, was thinking of ways members - and others in the community - could help finance projects and build a sustained, grassroots infrastructure for creative work. She came up with what she calls micro-grants. Members of Valley Art Share provide funding for art projects and then have a say in who receives the money.

Though artists and others have already tapped online self-help resources like Kickstarter to help pay for projects, Siegel and Handschuh say they are looking to build more community-based models.

"One of the best things about this has been the feeling of community, of people really coming together and showing interest in the idea and offering different ways to help," said Siegel, who lives in Northampton. "It's been so much fun."

And Handschuh, an artist and freelance designer who also lives in Northampton, says she's been inspired by alternative funding strategies in other parts of the country, such as FEAST in Brooklyn, N.Y. People pay $20 for a meal, and the proceeds are donated to an artist's project based on a vote by diners.

"There are a lot of ways to bring people together and build a real network of support," she said.

Lack of funds

Siegel is the administrative adviser for the University of Massachusetts Amherst student radio station, WMUA - 91.1FM, and hosts a jazz show on Friday mornings. He also promotes jazz shows at the UMass Fine Arts Center - about 120 so far, he estimates - but sometimes has to turn down musicians' requests to perform because of lack of funds.

"There's been a tremendous backlog of talent looking for an audience," said Siegel, who is particularly drawn, he says, to up-and-coming jazz players and those "a little outside the mainstream."

This spring, using the CSA model, Siegel conceived the idea of a "jazz share" - enlisting people to contribute to a fund that would pay for jazz shows that shareholders can then attend. Pulling together other jazz fans, players and teachers in the area, he held meetings, formed a steering committee and then launched through word of mouth.

The result is Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares, which is offering 125 shares, at $125 each to fund 10 concerts in the Valley per year, starting this fall. Siegel and his fellow organizers settled on the $125 figure by calculating artists' fees, rental fees for concert space and venue sizes. A share will entitle a member to 10 tickets. Members will also get to meet the musicians at pre- or post-concert receptions.

So far about 50 "Jazz Pioneers" have signed on, Siegel said. The program is operating as a nonprofit under the auspices of Northampton's Center for the Arts.

Three shows have been scheduled so far. The first, at the United Congregational Church in Holyoke Nov. 4, will feature Angelica Sanchez on piano and Omar Tamez on guitar. The shows will be open to the general public, Siegel said, but at higher prices.

"We think there's a core audience here that will really take to this idea," he said. So far, most Jazz Pioneers are friends, associates or friends of friends. "We've been kind of joking that the push now to bring more attention to this is like our Initial Public Offering."

Siegel's program comes on the heels of other efforts to bring more jazz to the area, like the Pioneer Valley Jazz Network, a Web-based resource started last year. Alan Davis, a co-founder of that group, is also a member of Jazz Share's steering committee, along with Jason Robinson, a jazz musician and professor at Amherst College.

If Jazz Share can get firmly established, Siegel said, he will seek additional financing through traditional methods like grants and support from area businesses.

"We're hoping to build a real base for this and make it a model for community-supported music."

Online community

Handschuh, meanwhile, says there are about 950 members of Valley Art Share, primarily from Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties, though there are some from southern Vermont and northern Connecticut. About half are active on the site, which includes a community arts calendar, an archive of local artists' profiles and work and online exhibitions.

Handschuh is working to create a fund for artists' projects that members can vote for online. She has created a page on the VAS website where members can donate a suggested $3 a month. The donations will be totaled every three months and members can then vote on which artists receive the money. The results of the first funding cycle will be announced at the end of this month.

Handschuh said she doesn't have specific financial goals in mind, but she notes on the VAS website that if half the membership donates $3 per month, over $4,000 in funding will be available after three months.

"This is really just the start," she said. "My idea is to use this to begin building a larger infrastructure of support in the community as a whole."

Handschuh, who was active in the Occupy Wall Street movement last fall, says she's drawn to grassroots movements and community self-sufficiency, and hopes local businesses and organizations will contribute to VAS's micro-grants as well.

"I'd like to see more arts and business collaboration," she said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

To find out more about these programs, or to join them, visit www.jazzshares.org and www.valleyartshare.com.