Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New addition to the Soup Network: Flagstaff SUPPER

The "Soup Network" has a new member -- Flagstaff SUPPER.

To celebrate, we sat down to talk with one of its founders, Carolyn Deuschle. (OK, we sat down and emailed with her. But still.)

Have a read and get inspired!

Tell us a little about SUPPER!
SUPPER is a lot like DISHES. We bring people together for a dinner, at the end of which we fund a community enrichment or public art project. We seek to be an artist incubator, and in so doing we really want to try to bring people's attention to how their work can improve Flagstaff, by whatever definition improving Flagstaff means to them. Along the way, we want to expand the idea of what an artist is.

What does it stand for?
SUPPER stands for Supporting Urban Projects for Public Engagement and Revitalization.

Who did you team up with to make it possible?
From the start, I teamed up with two friends and a local businessman, turned friend, who runs a delicious bagel shop here in town. Recently a woman, who caught wind of our project, because coincidentally she was fielding interest in a FEAST-like event of her own in Flag, has joined our group.
Everyone brings something different to the table---whether that's a different creative perspective, skills in accounting, connections, or understanding of catering and hosting events. Obviously, none of us have ever done anything like this so a lot of discussions happen, sometimes about the most seemingly inane parts of the event. But everything feels really important to us, and we're all trying really hard to work together to make this as good as it can be on the first go-round.

How are you different from the traditional "FEAST" model?
Something that might make us a bit different from other food-based micro-grant initiatives is that we're working hand-in-hand with the city's public art commission. Since Arizona is such a heavily trafficked tourist destination, a certain amount of tax is apportioned from the sales of bed, board, and booze (it's called the BBB tax) to go to public art and beautification projects. That said, we want the commission to see SUPPER as a kind of artery for what they do, and to support us and the projects we fund. It's really important to us that a public art project that gets a SUPPER grant doesn't get taken down shortly after it's erected, so we're seeking to build a strong relationship with the commission so our projects get approved by the city for installment on public property. So far, the commission has been really supportive of SUPPER.

When and where is your first event?
Our first event is on Saturday, May 7th and it will be at Mia's Lounge, a bar here in town. We searched high and low for an all-ages venue in Flagstaff that would be a good host to SUPPER, but we really felt like we didn't have any options other than a bar. We hope that one day we can have it be an all-ages event, but until then, Mia's is a really fantastic space and we're very grateful that they've been so generous with us.

What are your hopes for it?
We want people who've never dreamed of calling themselves an artist to apply for a SUPPER grant, and for them, regardless of whether they get the grant or not, to feel community support for their project and the creativity they bring as an individual. Another hope is that SUPPER funds projects that have a tangible impact on the community.

What is the art scene like in Flagstaff?
The art scene in Flagstaff is really interesting. Of course since the Grand Canyon is so close (Flagstaff is the closest city to the canyon), there's a lot of paintings of that landscape and the galleries here are mostly filled with southwestern art. But there's also a lot of people doing their own thing, exploring art on their own terms despite that commercial lure. Though Flagstaff is a small town (around 60,000 people), there's a lot of diversity here too. There's a huge Native American and Hispanic population, both bringing their own artistic voices into the mix. A common thread that unites people in Flagstaff seems to be their love of the environment and the outdoors, regardless of cultural background. And I see this often times as the underlying theme of the kind of art that gets produced here. All that said, I'm really curious and excited to see what proposals end up being submitted for our first event.

Is there anything that you've figured out along the way that you wish
you'd known when you first started to put SUPPER together?

As much as I tried to prepare myself, I still don't think I realized just how hard and time-consuming it would all be. But on the other end of that, I also didn't realize how good it would feel when community businesses and members showed their support and generosity with their skills and resources. It helps me remember that we're all in this together, in a certain way, that I'm not the only one willing to invest my time and resources into this project, that other people believe in it, too. I guess I'm glad I didn't know this from the start though. It probably feels better as a surprise.

Do you have any all-time favorite public art projects -- in Arizona or

Actually, one of my all-time favorite public art projects I saw when I visited Flag a couple of years ago, a few months before I eventually moved here. I was driving through the Navajo Indian Reservation, a desolate place in the Painted Desert where there's really not much to look at besides the vast expanse of the landscape and the abandoned and decaying buildings that line the highway. But when I looked closer I saw that on the sides of these buildings an artist---who I eventually learned was a physician who worked at the reservation named Chip Thomas---had wheat pasted posters of members of the Navajo tribe. I'm not sure entirely what the intent of the project was---perhaps to bring drivers-by face to face with the community they were crossing----but it was provocative nonetheless. And as a newbie to the West, it helped show me the possibilities of art-making in the western landscape.