FEASTing in Brooklyn

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FEAST, or Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics, combines some of our favorite things: food, community, art, and a DIY ethos. The basic concept is simple — hold a dinner party in a public space and charge a sliding scale fee to encourage wide community participation. Attendees receive dinner and a ballot, and can vote on a number of proposed art projects. The winner receives funding, raised by the dinner, and presents the work at the next dinner.

Okay, maybe that’s not so simple to explain. That’s why we tracked down David Perez, one of the co-founders of FEAST, to answer our questions about the project, which is holding its latest dinner in Greenpoint this Saturday. Among those presenting are the organizers of a project we’re very excited about (and sponsoring!): Brooklyn Skillshare, a free, communal event where you can learn everything from kombucha brewing to bike mechanics, coming to Gowanus Studio Space Oct. 10.

You mentioned in passing that FEAST is like a CSA (community supported agriculture) but for art. How so?
All the founders of FEAST feel strongly about making food and culture more local and therefore more sustainable. Unlike the food movement, this is not happening in the art world, which very much relies on global capitalism. So the issue was how can art be community supported and local.

While most emerging artists make work with the hope that some hedge fund millionaire will buy it (which is the reigning option), we found a lot of inspiration in our CSAs.

Within FEAST, as in a CSA, the members pay money upfront for a project they will later see come to fruition, at the next FEAST. Unlike fast food, or the standard gallery painting for that matter, the project is tailored specifically to the FEAST community and, through voting, they determine what best fits their needs. The members get to take part in projects they want to see and the artists, rather than thinking about what will sell, get funding.

Seasonality plays an important role as well. Just like food is best when it is in season, time is key to the success of a project. With most larger institutional grants, artists have to plan years out and go through all sorts of application hurdles to get money. By the time the money does come, if it does, the project may not have the same relevance, culturally and/or personally. With FEAST, the application is intentionally short and the project should be ready to happen once money is received. While some projects have more long-term applications than others, FEAST members are seeing the project or some portion of it at the next FEAST. So in a sense the project is in season, and therefore can better serve the immediate community.

One of the things I have loved to see at each FEAST, is the way our concept of ‘wealth’ gets rethought. We are constantly told to think of money and wealth individually, and by getting together and putting our money together, wealth becomes a plural communal attribute. Especially with the economy and many attendees (I assume) feeling without much money, at FEAST it is a reminder of how much wealth we share communally.

A big inspiration for FEAST was also our friends at INCUBATE in Chicago, who started a Sunday Soup program which gives away grants through money raised at dinner

What can people expect at the event itself?
Several people I’ve talked to have commented that FEAST doesn’t feel like New York. I don’t want to say anything disparaging about NYC of course, but what I think they are getting at is that FEAST, while large with 200-plus guests, has a small communal feeling, less about networking and competition than collective celebrations. It definitely has the feeling of an intimate dinner, which is our intention.

Of course this Saturday’s FEAST will be more of a community picnic as we have a permit to be in McGolrick park. We are certainly expecting a lot more people but also a lot more activities in the park, and as always performances, readings, and project presentations. So people can expect a fun day in the park, to meet great people, see some amazing performances and presentations, and curate an event in their local community.

What sorts of projects are the most successful?
Thus far we have found that those projects which are more interactive and serve the broader community have been more successful. In particular public art projects have been well received. And through the very nature of FEAST, I think artists have picked up on this as well, as most submissions are interactive and communal.

Your personal faves?
I have been really impressed with the quality of the submissions. In particular, I really love the Trans-Gowanus Cable [Ed. Note: Check it out tonight and Friday, 7-10pm. Click on map for directions.]; they did a great job of making it happen and put so much work into it. I love the way it integrates the city and connects the past with the urban landscape. It is both simple in an interactive sense but really complex and intellectually robust at the same time.

One of the smaller grants at the last FEAST, Work for Pay, is a personal fave as well. Artist Lydia Bell is using the money to hire unemployed or under-paid artists for a performance piece. Like FEAST, the project itself rethinks sustainability and funding within the arts. I think it is an excellent use of resources and I love the way it reaches outward; by funding this project, she is in turn funding other artists. It is an amazing process to see.

Hot Dog Hot Dog is a really sweet project, a public event where people get either a hot dog or a picture of a hot dog. It’s such a direct interaction with the Bushwick community. And it has hot dogs, c’mon!

Sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of FEAST/Rachel Rampleman; and Sierra Pettengill and Ben Cohen.

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