Replicable Module-Artist/Farmer Partnerships
Wallkill River School, Orange County, NY
The module is designed as an instructional tool to help artists in different counties develop place-based art movements geared around natural assets and relations with local farms. This program has been developed by Orange County’s first local arts movement and field-tested with great success in building agricultural tourism and connecting local artists and farmers in a mutually-beneficial way.
Table of Contents:
A. Our programs
1. Plein Air Painting Classes
2. Local Foods Cookbook
B. Funding Sources
1. Government grants available
2. Do-it-yourself auction
C. Finding Artists
D. Legal documents
1. Hold-Harmless Agreement (generic)
2. Auction donation form
3. Cookbook form for recipe or family history
4. Sign-in sheet for plein air classes
5. Excel Spreadsheets for auction spotters and accounting
E. Potential Partnership Ideas
A. Our Programs: The Wallkill River School of Art is a non-profit (501©3) arts organization with the mission of preserving small family farms, open space, and creating economic opportunities for local artists. We have developed a few programs that have been very successful and would like to offer them as models to artists in other communities. Our programs work best in agrarian communities, without an established arts economy. We are located in Orange County, NY, and consider ourselves to be following in the footsteps of the Hudson River School (200 years our predecessor) who designed parks and preserved open space through their activism.
1. Plein Air Painting Classes: Our school was founded on the concept of taking artists out of the cities and planting them in farm fields to learn to paint the landscape. Plein Air is French for “outdoors” and simply means schlepping painting gear outside to paint instead of the studio. We offer plein air painting classes from May-Oct. on farms and open spaces throughout our county.
a. What a class looks like: Participants meet on location on Sunday mornings at 9am. The class coordinator is there to greet them and park them in the appropriate locations. The public is welcome to attend and loaner materials are made available to people who wish to join on the spot. Participants set up and choose their view from 9-9:30. An artists who lives in the area is hired to demonstrate his/her approach to landscape painting from 9:30-10am. After the demo the artist answers questions, then participants paint individually from 10-noon. During that time, the demonstrating artist walks around and offers one-to-one help and guidance. At noon a group picnic is spread out consisting of local foods (see c.) and a group critique is led by the class coordinator.
b. Where classes happen: Sites are chosen a year in advance and vary from small farms, to scenic riverfront vistas, to historic sites. We take into account whether each site can support 20-50 artists (and cars), is handicapped-accessible, and has a restroom (see c). Also, some sites have multiple views that can support 4 visits while others may get old after one painting trip, so an artist should scout the sites beforehand.
c. Making Magic: For people to feel at ease and the magic of learning painting and connecting with the land to happen, basic needs have to be met.
1. Make sure there are easy to follow directions to the site, and signs to guide people to the correct parking areas that don’t impede the flow of farm activities.
2. Obtain all necessary permits months in advance and remind sites that artists will be arriving the week before.
3. Provide a port-o-potty if no restroom is available (we use a small hunter’s blind with a bucket topped off with a toilet seat and leaf mulch in the bucket for compost.)
4. Provide a local foods lunch of something simple and vegetarian like soup and a salad. We use local produce from the farms we visit and cook each week. Volunteers often bring local foods dishes as well. Sharing food, especially foods grown on the land you are painting, builds camaraderie.
5. Make it a zero waste event, where participants know they are expected to bring their own dishes and utensils for the picnic (have extras on hand) and carry out any garbage they produce while painting. We issue “mess kits” of reusable dishes and flatware with a cloth napkin and drinking cup.
6. Have a supply of loaner materials available for people who forget that one crucial item (canvas, paper, easels, chair, watercolors, containers, palettes, etc).
7. We found that offering on-site babysitting increased participation by young mothers, and made classes more accessible.
8. Invite the farmers, staff, and family to participate (for free) so that they have the opportunity to paint and to see their land through artist’s eyes.
9. Group critiques should always be during or after lunch and center around what works in a particular painting first, followed by suggestions for improving it (if any). It is crucial that novice painters feel supported and encouraged.
2. Creating a Local Foods Cookbook – Orange County Bounty is a book that synthesizes our program by featuring local farms, farmer’s histories, and recipes organized according to what’s in season and where you can get it. The cookbook we produced is 100% local, meaning we used a local printer (the last large-scale book publisher in Orange County) and funded it through donations from restaurants (who were featured if they offered recipes using local produce) and grants and donations from County organizations like Tourism, and Ag Boards.
A. Finding Funding – A cookbook is expensive and we had to raise about $50,000 for up-front expenses like paper and ink. We chose recycled paper and soy-based ink with a UV coating on each page which cost extra, but was important to our philosophy.
1. Find a local printer first who may be willing to front some upfront costs for a portion of the proceeds.
2. Get an estimate of cost and what can be raised by grants and donations from your county.
3. Assemble volunteers for committees: Fundraising Committee to raise the funds and sell “advertising” to restaurants (we gave each restaurant a page with a recipe, the family history of the restaurant, and the contact info). Recipe committee to find recipes from local cooks. We hosted a recipe contest through the tourism office, but a local newspaper or other venue can help. Farm Committee to find local farms that retail directly to the public (Cornell Cooperative Extension helped us here) and interview the farmers for their family history, hours, what they produce and when it’s in season.
B. Adding spice – We sprinkled bits of cultural lore and history that we gleaned from Tourism and other sources throughout our cookbook. Some of the tidbits were about international artists, actors, and writers who live(d) in our county and most were virtually unknown locally. We also illustrated each page with local artist’s painting of the farms and produce. We gave each artist a few lines of bio under the caption of the artwork as well. We also included a directory of farm markets and a list of farms that retail to the public in the back of our book instead of an index of recipes.
C. Dissemination – We set a sale price of $20 per book with $12 going to the publisher, $3 going to our nonprofit, and $5 going to the person who sells it. This allows our cookbook to be used as a fundraiser for schools, sold at farmer’s markets, and distributed through other places. If people can make a little money from it, they will help you sell and promote it.
a. We hosted “Local Foods Dinners” at restaurants which were Prix Fix and included a copy of the cookbook in the price. Artist’s paintings of the restaurant, farm that supplied the restaurant, and local produce were displayed at these events. Our director developed a brief Powerpoint presentation (see resources section) detailing the importance of eating locally and the economic impact on the county.
b. We partnered with local PTA’s and offered the book as a fundraiser. Most PTA’s offer several fundraisers through the year of nonlocal citrus, and candy, so our cookbook was welcome. We didn’t sell very many this way unfortunately, because of the higher price point.
c. We partnered with all the farmer’s markets and provided displays of cookbooks for sale through the farm market booth. They kept $5 per book which helped offset the cost of staffing the farm market.
B. Funding Sources: The hardest part of any project is finding a way to fund it. Neither our plein air class or cookbook are particularly profitable. We break even on both each year, but both provide valuable advertising that helps keep our nonprofit in the public eye and attract new audiences. It pays in the long run.
1. Government grants – Our plein air classes were initially funded by NYSCA Decentralization grants which are awarded in NY through NYSCA offices. These grants range from $500-$5000 most of which are around $1200. The grants are earmarked specifically to pay for artists’ fees and will not cover any other expenses. We apply for and use these funds to pay our demonstrating artists for each plein air class. (see attached grant application)
Local tourism and arts councils also offer grants. Check with your county government office and see if it has a tourism bureau. Some cities and towns earmark funds for tourism as well.
2. Do-it-yourself art auction – Our main source of funding has historically been auctioning off our paintings to local audiences. We select a place that has a strong social base, a CSA farm where people buy shares of the harvest, for example. We organize a paintout with the help of the farm and highly publicize it. This advertising is good for the farm and the arts. People paint on the farm (usually for four consecutive Sundays during peak growing season) and then frame their works. Works are previewed at local restaurants or at the farm before the auction; auction happens in the fall. Proceeds from the sale of the art are divided 40% to the farm, 10% to the arts org, 50% to the artist. Or you can split it evenly 50/50 between the farm and the artists and put a $10 fee per piece on top of the minimum bid for the arts org. (see attached Excel spread sheets) Auctions usually gross around $5K. Having a silent auction of goods and services alongside the live auction helps to raise much more money. The silent auction can feature items like “Dinner for two delivered to your door” and things people can do instead of tangibles.
3. Finding Artists – If your county has no database of artists, or there are no magazines/periodicals geared toward the arts, you may have to ferret out the artists.We rely on three methods to reach artists: printed matter, social media, and press. We found that printed flyers posted in public spaces like coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, stores that sell art supplies, and similar places are an excellent way to reach artists. Having newspaper stories about your arts group is the best way to reach many people at once. A well-positioned press release before a paint-out or auction can really increase attendance. Using Facebook, Linked-In, and Twitter also helps, particularly if individual members all repost and share what you post. We have found that the right people come at the right time. Turn out may be small at first, but will grow with the right people moving it forward.