By Lori Szepelak
The collage by Mischa Epstein is titled "Having Grown Up in New England" and details the Wattupa River in Fall River. The art is made by collaging handmade paper and embellishing it with paint, glitter and sequins.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
GREATER SPRINGFIELD An innovative new business Spark! Art Share was created earlier this year when some of the region's artists saw a potential "win-win opportunity" for both artists and customers.
"Taking the model from local farms where people get to enjoy great food while supporting local farms by pre-paying, we decided to create a share program for art," Katie Richardson, Spark! Art Share coordinator, said during an interview with Reminder Publications.
Richardson explained that Spark! allows people to support local art and the creative economy while ensuring they'll get a variety of great products throughout the year.
"The benefit to artists is a guaranteed market and income because items are basically sold before they are even made," she said. "It also gets artists meeting people, which is another reason that it is mutually beneficial."
Currently there are several members participating in the new endeavor, and Richardson feels confident the project will continue to grow as word spreads throughout the region.
Businesses that have helped kick-start the endeavor include Little Birch Farm, BMW Ironworks, Celadon Studio, Scout Cuomo, Lou's Upcycles, Katie Ray Arts, Warm Glow, Mischa's Collage, Taylor Ceramics, 230am Studio, Dragonfly Designs and Mtn Winds Woodworks.
Richardson noted that Spark! is one of only a few art share programs in the country.
"It is a new model for art distribution that is really unique because people gain a connection to the makers of the art, they get to choose what they like if they come pick up, and they have the opportunity to support artists in a more concrete, long-term way," she said.
There are share options for a variety of price points to make art accessible to all, ranging from a "petite" share that costs $400 for the year, a "standard" share that is $1,000, and a "grande" share is $2,500.
Customers purchasing shares have an option to pay in full when they sign up, or to pay half up front and half in June.
Richardson noted that all shares offer high-quality, local art at an "amazing value."
Richardson's role with Spark! is diverse, a perfect complement to the artists she works closely with each month.
On any given day she can be seen putting the shares together with artists, managing enrollment, promotion, and communications with artists, and organizing the quality control visits before each month's share.
"There are many benefits to Spark!," she said, noting the artists are valued in the community, and members have beautiful and functional art and products in their home rather than mass-produced goods.
Donna Beck, of 230am Studio in Indian Orchard, echoed those sentiments.
"This is such an exciting art concept," Beck said. "From an artist's perspective, I don't see a downside. We have guaranteed sales for that particular month and the chance for our work to be seen by new people, people who love art and could potentially become future supporters of our work. We're also able to meet and interact with other artists who are involved."
Beck's mixed media works revolve around her own handmade papers and surface-designed papers. Her work includes collages, handmade books, 3-D works, tiles and ornaments. She is also working on a new line of "upcycled" furniture pieces she finds at tag sales and "refinishes" them by collaging with her papers and painting.
Mischa Epstein of Mischa's Collages in Northampton also creates original art, prints, greeting card sets and journals wrapped in handmade paper.
"Spark! is a great way for artists to keep reaching their customer base year round," she said. "Also, there is a community of artists who are a part of Spark! We have communication and touch base on a normal basis. It's a positive thing to be a part of."
Richardson encouraged area residents to consider contributing to the sustainability of art as a viable source of income for regional artists.
"Spark! is supported by the local nonprofit Artisans of WMASS, because the nature of the program so clearly fits with its goals," Richardson said.
When one signs up with Spark!, expect the share to be "full of fun surprises, great for you and your home," Richardson said. Pickup-time for shares are conducted every third Saturday of the month, from Food for Thought Books in Amherst. Upcoming pickup dates are Dec. 15 and Jan. 19 and Feb. 16, 2013.
For more information on Spark!'s artists gallery and membership details, contact Richardson at 610-457-4312 or visit www.sparkartshare.com.
Richardson noted that the Spark! concept is contemporary.
"As we learn more about the value of artists and creative people in keeping communities healthy and happy, we know we need to keep them around," she said.
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