Dirty Word

Community Supported Theater

A model we’ve been discussing for a while at the CSPA in regards to our producing partnerships, it’s exciting to see the idea of modeling a theater on a community agriculture model. Makes sense to us since we started trying to make it so that community wasn’t a dirty word in theater anymore.

To catch you up on the discussion we picked it up through The Artful Manager this past week:

Is unprofitable theater (or other arts endeavor) a charity, a community resource, an entitlement, a labor of love, or some combination thereof? Whatever we choose as our cluster of definitions, it will be helpful to align our business models and our resource strategies accordingly.

Which led us to Flux Theatre:

I talked a little about this model, and how it might work for Flux, in the post The Metabolism of Theatre. On the surface, this idea could feel like a reframed subscriber relationship for an age that hates subscribing. For the change to be more substantive, several conceptual and practical things need to happen.

and Stolen Chair:

For the past nine months, Stolen Chair and six other artists have been developing models for economic and financial sustainability through The Field’s Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists (ERPA) program, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 2008 New York City Cultural Innovation Fund.

Jon Stancato/Stolen Chair proposed a way to adapt the business plan followed by most Community Supported Agricultures (CSAs). Like the CSA model, Stolen Chair hopes to build a membership community, a “CST”, which would provide ‘seed’ money for the company’s development process and then reap a year’s worth of theatrical harvests.


Listen to the CST model presentation for ERPA’s Public Display of Invention at WNYC’s Jerome L. Green Performance Space, Sept. 21, 2009.

ERPA Clip 5 Jon Stancato/Stolen Chair Theatre Company from The Field on Vimeo.

All of this comes out of ERPA….

Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists (ERPA – pronounced ur•pah) tackles tough economic realities on two fronts: inventive public dialogues (AKA Invention Sessions) and an ambitious entrepreneurial lab. Since 2008 ERPA dialogues have engaged more than 500 artists and cultural stakeholders in topics ranging from alternative fundraising tactics, to the romanticization of the starving artist paradigm, to a smackdown exposé on the ‘new’ economy.

The Invention Sessions helped set the stage for a competitive proposal process in November 2008, from which seven projects were selected (out of 116 applicants!) to receive Planning Grants from The Field.  Each ERPA artist received a $5,000 stipend and a variety of professional development resources to support their ideas-in-progress.  After more than a year of entrepreneurial investigations, their unique approaches to financial stability were presented in a Public Display of Invention at WNYC’s The Greene Space – visit the ERPA blog for audio coverage.  View clips from the Public Display on the ERPA vimeo channel.