What happens when a person you are working with violates your trust, despite their best intentions? What happens when you place yourself in the position of partnering with someone you barely know? Face it, in our quicksilver, Internet-fueled world, it happens all the time. Is it surprising that when we barely know our “friends” and “followers” that we may occasionally get stung when we reach out to create new connections?
Community Supported Art (CSA) first came to my attention in July as one of the finalists for the Awesome SA Awards. CSA wasn’t a winner that month, but because of my particular interest in the arts, the concept caught my eye.
I was able to get in touch with Kelly Schaub, proprietor of Arts Mall Productions and the originator of the CSA – San Antonio concept in August. The purpose of this fledgling organization was to draw business-savvy artists and collectors together into a community that works in concert to elevate the arts.
“When the needs of artists are addressed, the community also benefits, and in many cases can thrive. Art is unique. Artists make a community unique,” Kelly said last August. “Arts Mall strives to explore various models that work in other industries, in an effort to create valuable intersections between art and community.”
A worthy cause, but artists and contacts involved in Arts Mall Productions and CSA haven’t heard from Schaub in weeks. The SA Smarts Twitter feed remains inactive. Related Facebook pages have been deleted. Her whereabouts are unknown to most and Schaub did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.
As we sat and talked in her office at Geekdom last August, Schaub seemed a thoughtful, if somewhat shy, advocate for the arts. Recently relocated from Minnesota, she had spent many years visiting San Antonio, fell in love with the city, and decided to make it her home. Part of the charm, of course, was the very vibrant arts community. She spoke of building relationships, giving artists the tools that they needed to create successful businesses as artists. Her ideas sounded honest and interesting. At that time, I decided to do a little research.
Many folks are aware of the term “CSA” as an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. Buy a share, and you get a regular supply of farm fresh veggies. Apply the same concept to art, and you get the idea. Originating in 2010 with a nonprofit called Springboard for the Arts based in St. Paul, MN, the idea has spread to about 40 locations across the country and has been covered in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
The St. Paul guys are the Pied Piper of the movement, so to speak. For $45, you can download a “how-to” booklet with instructions on how to replicate the Community Supported Art project for your area. For $100, you will also be able to access up to two hours of phone or video conferencing with a CSA staff member as you set up your project.
Essentially, you gather artists — here in San Antonio there were nine. Then you sell shares. Schaub’s goal was to sell 50 shares at $350 each to raise $17,500. Then there would be a party where the shareholders would come to pick up their “crop” of original artwork, meet the artists, and everyone would have a warm and fuzzy, feel good, do good, reap the benefits moment and boom — success! Simple, right?
How could it have gone so wrong?
My first inkling of doom was when we ran into Katy Silva, a young artist just starting her career and a recent graduate of Trinity University, at a recent Second Saturday in the Lone Star Art District. We had been introduced by a mutual friend at an Artpace event, and I had been delighted that she was chosen as one of the artists for CSA. She had a very pained look on her face as she asked me if I had “heard what happened.” My stomach sank as she related her story.
We just happened to be standing in 3rd Space Gallery taking a look at Kim Bishop’s latest work. Kim and her husband, Luis Valderas, are the proprietors of the gallery, as well as CSA artists. These two are at the opposite end of the artistic spectrum from Katy. They are experienced, well-honed, and well-known in the San Antonio art community. They are educators, activists, and talented artists with work represented in numerous public and private collections.
Standing there surrounded by Kim’s amazing work, we compared notes about what we knew and did not know about the demise of CSA. One thing was for sure: Kelly Schaub was not doing anything to communicate with the artists or any of the share investors.
Kim and Luis were fairly disgusted yet pragmatic. That particular show was based on work produced for the CSA project. Things happen and you move on, they said, taking a bad situation and making something better from it. But the worst part of their involvement? Bishop and Valderas brought collectors to the table to buy shares.
At the time of this story, Schaub had not made any efforts to reimburse the shares that had been purchased. In fact, Bishop and Valderas are taking responsibility by “delivering” themselves on the promises made by Schaub — they are reimbursing their collectors with their own artwork. As Luis says, “We cannot allow this to reflect badly on us.”
To her credit, Schaub did not actually accept any art from the commissioned artists. The deadline to deliver work was originally Oct. 1, and then pushed back to Nov. 1. This was when many found out that CSA probably wasn’t going to make it. When CSA contributing artist Frank Mendoza went to turn in his work, Schaub quietly told him she had gone bankrupt. According to Mendoza, “I worked hard on my five paintings and spent about $1,000 on making 50 fine art prints, thinking I would get the stipend she promised us. I still have my prints and I’m trying to sell them on my own now.”
Mendoza feels betrayed, “I’m upset about all of this, and I’m not sure what really happened…I don’t think a simple apology from Kelly Schaub is enough for what she did. I think everyone who was involved … needs to be compensated somehow.”
Dedra Espinoza is a teacher who had decided to take the challenge of participating in CSA to jumpstart herself as a working artist. She is pragmatic as well, “Hey, I was making $20 a pop on these pieces, so it really wasn’t about the money, I knew I was taking a chance anyway. It could be really positive or really negative. I just didn’t think it would be this negative.”
Dedra was looking to create connections with the community, “I can understand her embarrassment, but I always thought she would get back to us, at least to come up with some solutions to take care of the shareholders who did invest. She could have done things a lot differently.” According to Espinoza, Schaub had sold only eight shares.
As I was writing this article, I spoke with Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts. She was dismayed by the news of CSA San Antonio’s demise.
“CSA is an idea we believe strongly in and one that we know is growing and adapting across the country. We are very troubled and sad to hear that the CSA program in San Antonio has not served the community in this way.” she said.
Zabel went on to express a desire to share what they know about how the program can be successful – if the San Antonio arts community feels this is an idea that can still be useful.
At the end of the day, Kelly Schaub didn’t just let down the artists and shareholders working with her. Yes, she’s apparently skipped out leaving everyone holding the bag, but she really did herself the greatest disservice. By not communicating, she missed out on the opportunity to build that community that she was seeking. The San Antonio artist community is made of resilient stuff — truly outstanding people. Most of the artists that I spoke to expressed a desire to work with Schaub to find equitable solutions. Luis Valderas put it best when he said, “I’m most disappointed that she didn’t have enough faith in, or respect for, the artists to just talk to us.”
Schaub, in hindsight, made a series of missteps. She had a good idea, good intentions, but nothing to back it up. There was no support system, no advisors, no board of directors, no fund-raisers. Just one person on her own.
Tami Kegley has lived the life of an artist. Through multiple careers — dancer, percussionist, performance artist, sculptor, goldsmith, gallerist — she has pursued her need to create. The Great Recession brought changes, and now she’s back and discovering the art world of San Antonio, one happening at a time. The Rivard Report is one place that you can follow her trail, as is www.artblogsa.com.