New Hazlett Theater uses community to invest in art with CSA program

By February 19, 2019 No Comments

“Redemption Sons” from the 2016 New Hazlett CSA (Photo: Renee Rosensteel)

The New Hazlett Theater found an unlikely muse for its Community Supported Art (CSA) program: farming.

“What inspired it is the agricultural CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture,” René Conrad, executive director of the New Hazlett Theater, says.

In an agricultural CSA, a farm or a group of farms asks people to buy a small share of land. In return for buying this share, the farm provides the person with a box of vegetables or other farm goods. The practice is a form of civic agriculture that aims to strengthen a sense of community through local markets, where the producer and consumer share the risks of farming.

“You know that you kind of invested in having it grown and that you believe that it’s great quality because of your relationship with the farmer,” Conrad says.

Now in its sixth season, the New Hazlett’s CSA program encourages patrons to buy one $100 share to support five works created by new and emerging artists, who specialize in different media, from dance to music and plays to experimental animation.

The New Hazlett’s program is inspired by a similar one by Springboard for the Arts, an arts-driven economic community development organization in Minnesota. Also called Community Supported Art, their CSA program uses visual art. Nine selected artists receive a commission to create 50 “shares.” Interested collectors purchase a share from Springboard for the Arts and receive boxes or portfolios of locally produced artwork at intervals during the season in return.

Conrad and Bill Rodgers, programming director at the New Hazlett, downloaded Springboard for the Arts’ toolkit for their CSA program and modified it for the performing arts, giving those who buy a “share” new works of performance art instead of boxes of paintings.

Those interested in the CSA program first submit an application for proposals, which are due in January. However, applicants have until Dec. 15 to receive feedback on their proposals. An anonymous panel chooses finalists, who are interviewed. From there, five works are chosen to be performed in the next season, beginning in October.

The CSA program participants receive a $3,500 stipend, the opportunity to work with two theater technicians, access to the New Hazlett’s rehearsal space, professional documentation of the performance via still photography and raw video footage. The New Hazlett Theater also helps CSA program participants with fiscal sponsorship to secure additional funding through grants.  

Additionally, the New Hazlett’s CSA program has a separate track for emerging designers, who team up with the performance artists to help bring their works from concept to stage.

Rodgers says that, with the platform and  the New Hazlett’s CSA program acts as an incubator and accelerator for new and emerging artists.

“They have this whole kit that they can afterwards continue to apply to bigger and better things,” he says.

The New Hazlett’s CSA program has changed since its inception in 2013. In the past, the New Hazlett sponsored six CSA shows. Now, the theater sponsors five, but has added another evening performance to ensure patrons have a better chance of viewing the new works.  

Additionally, the New Hazlett has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts for the CSA program, and has incorporated a CSA EDU Student Sponsorship Program that invites local high school students to experience performing art at their own Friday student matinee for each work.

Murphi Cook and Zach Dorn of Miniature Curiosa performed their work, “Birds of America,” in the first season of the New Hazlett’s CSA program in 2013. According to the pair, having access to a larger audience lead to future professional achievements: someone saw “Birds of America” and nominated Dorn to be an inaugural Julie Taymor World Theater fellow, where he spent a year in Japan in 2016. He is currently pursuing an MFA at the California Institute of the Arts. Cook wrote “Birds of America” while pursuing her MFA at Carnegie Mellon University and is currently working on a new play funded by a Pittsburgh Foundation creative development grant, which will premiere in April.

Since performing “Birds of America,” Miniature Curiosa has performed other works, like “The Clown Was Stung by Wasps” at the San Antonio’s 2017 Luminaria festival in San Antonio, Texas. Dorn and Cook say that the program allowed them to perfect a form while pushing themselves creatively.

“The New Hazlett sort of gave us a place to form a structure on how we interact with actors and how we build puppets and how we produce new work, and we could then apply that structure to other shows,” Dorn says.

“It gave us evidence that we could actually do things and it also made us think about pushing our work further and thinking beyond the bowling alley, the only thing we’ve thought about before,” Cook says.

Ben Barson, of Afro Yaqui Music Collective, performed in this season’s CSA program with “Migrant Liberation Movement Suite,” a multicultural jazz performance that connects climate change to mass migration. Along with the connections made during the program, Barson says the CSA program has allowed “Migrant Liberation Movement Suite” to live outside of the New Hazlett: Afro Yaqui Music Collective recorded its October performance and turned it into a jazz album.

“It’s much more than just a performance,” he says.

Although the number of people who sign up for a share varies from year to year, according to Conrad, the support is unwavering.

“It’s great that we have a town that really appreciates performing arts and that they come to see it,” Conrad says.

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