Bringing art and community together over dinner
The pieces are starting to fall into place for an innovative fund-raising event that has the potential to do exciting things for Milwaukee artists and the larger community. Intrigued? Mark your calendar for May 7, and plan on attending the cleverly-named MK-Eat, a dinner party that will sate your hunger and your appetite for creativity.
Milwaukeean Daniel Kelly is working to bring this unique dinner party-meets-fundraiser concept to our very own Brew City, modeled after similarly successful projects in other cities across the country. It works like this: local artists submit proposals for projects, which are then presented at a quarterly dinner. Admission to the event not only buys your meal, but also a vote. Diners submit their votes for their favorite project, the numbers are tabulated and the winner receives the money raised from ticket sales to use toward funding their project. At the next dinner, the winner presents the results of their project.
With the inception of MK-Eat, Milwaukee joins an international nexus of cities hosting similar events, organized under the moniker the Soup Network. The ultimate goal of each of these dinners is to raise money to fund projects that ultimately benefit the community.
“With Dan’s project, Milwaukee is finally embracing a really exciting funding model that has been working successfully in other parts of the country for a while now,” says Mike Brenner, owner of Brenner Brewing Company and the former Hotcakes Gallery.
The original idea started with InCUBATE-Chicago’s Sunday Soup in 2007 and Brooklyn’s FEAST (which stands for Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics) in 2008. Since then, over 25 cities have joined the network. Most are in the United States, but a few have been organized overseas. The various incarnations are organized independently in their respective cities, but use the larger network for resources and support.
Artists are invited to submit a wide variety of ideas, using any manifestation necessary to most effectively produce their project. Grantees in other cities have submitted proposals ranging from visual art like the Bridging Minneapolis murals, to endeavors in film such as the Spice Trade Expedition, to musical projects like the Anywhere Organ or the Girls who ROCK! after school youth club.
Kelly, a first-year graduate student in the film program at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, was inspired to start up MK-Eat after attending FEAST Minneapolis at the request of a friend who was presenting at it. He was impressed by the event, saying, “it’s an amazing get-together…people gave so much to the proposals.” He asked himself why Milwaukee didn’t have its own version of it, and then took it upon himself to make that a reality.
Kelly has relied thus far on advice and assistance from experienced friends and acquaintances, and is still looking for sponsorship for some essentials like food, printing and possibly web design. He hopes to have 14-15 proposals to present at the dinner, and says that he is currently short of that goal.
The menu for these events is generally simple, with many organizers choosing to serve soup. As Kelly says, “the food is often an aside. People come to present and ask for your vote.” In keeping with the community-based ethos, most events serve locally-sourced ingredients from neighborhood restaurants, and often feature vegetarian and vegan dishes. Health and sustainability seem to be a priority.
Kelly says that these events can be pretty well-attended, with the organizers of Philly Stake reporting that their last event hosted over 200 people and awarded 3 grants totaling $1,800. When asked if he had any expectations for attendance at the first MK-Eat, Kelly said, “that gets taken care of by the people, which is the way it should work.”
However, attendance at the event will determine whether there will be grants for any runners-up. Kelly hopes that presenters will spread the word and get their friends and family in to support them. In the wake of the phenomenon of people using social networking websites to get others to support them in various contests and other endeavors, he says, “it’s a really good idea to translate that to real life. I think that’s important right now.”
Paul Kjelland, who helped start the Riverwest24 bike race and Riverwest Public House, has been in contact with Kelly about getting MK-Eat off the ground. He thinks the benefits of the project go beyond funding, saying, “social events like this are great for meeting new people as well as reinforcing relationships with other artists in the community. If there is not a strong community of artists, the art scene as a whole cannot be strong.”
Kjelland has confidence in MK-Eat, and hopes to see it grow larger over the years, adding, “it is a great model and has the potential to be a very successful movement of micro-financing in a field that is increasingly under attack.”
Faythe Levine, organizer of Art vs. Craft and creator of the documentary Handmade Nation, has also met with Kelly to discuss MK-Eat. She is enthusiastic about the event, and thinks that others will share her enthusiasm.
“As an artist, I know I struggle with making ends meet financially, so an event that is set up specifically to help fund creative projects is really exciting,” Levine says.
If you would like to volunteer to help out with MK-Eat, Daniel Kelly can be contacted at email@example.com. If you would like to submit a project proposal, information and guidelines can be found on the event’s website. All submissions are due no later than 5 p.m. on March 31,2011.