Category: design

Community Supported Arts Harvest

This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach a business basics class for a group of artists participating in a new way to create and sell artwork, Community Supported Arts. Like its inspiration, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), CSArts is a way for producers to get paid in advance for their work, and a way for consumers to get a bounty of locally-produced original artwork.  Last week, I attended the Harvest Party and picked up my bag of nine works of art.

Here’s a rundown. Be sure to visit each artist’s site for more information, and in some cases, behind-the-scenes looks at the production process. Last I heard there were just a handful of CSArt shares still available for purchase.

CSArt by Laura Quincy Jones, Emily Garfield, Robert Smyth and Jude Griffin

Clockwise from top left, a hand-washed pen-and-ink housescape by Laura Quincy Jones, a map of an imaginary place by Emily Garfield, a bird print on wood by Jude Griffin, and a letterpress broadside of a poem written and set by Robert Smyth.


An artists’ book by Cristina Hajosy, an abstract watercolor painting by Shannon Astolfi, and a plate with a hand-painted bird (after Audubon) by Eileen DeRosas.


Origami by Sok Song and a porcelain bottle by Maeve Mueller.

I have good reason to be biased, but I really think this is a fantastic program for the artists and also for the buyers. For less than I’ve often paid for a single photograph (my usual media of collection), I now have nine new works of art in several media I’ve never collected before. Aside from their origin, there’s no clear theme uniting them, but there are lots of interesting groupings and connections to be made for the inspired home curator. I know the artists better than the average buyer, but there’s enough information in the packaging and on the artists’ sites for a novice collector to learn about each piece’s creation and inspiration.

Although each artist made 50 pieces for this program, most of them have some element of individuality and all are signed and numbered. For example, each of Sok Song’s pieces has the same form, but is made of a different paper. You can see all 50 of Shannon Astolfi’s paintings on her website, and Maeve Mueller encourages her buyers to join an online community to see where the other bottles ended up.  I hope more share buyers will post photos of their artwork so I can see more of the other 49 variations. In the event of a reunion, each of Emily Garfield’s map paintings links up with the next to form a single, very long, map.

It may be hard for some to buy art in advance and pretty much sight unseen, but at this price and with this number of works, I think most would be happy with a few pieces they love, and a few they can give as gifts. Of course part of the point is that CSArt share buyers will form a connection with one or more of the artists and buy more (and more expensive) work from them in the future. I know I’ll be keeping an eye on some of these artists, and not just to see if they were listening in business class.

Only a schnook would buy a Nook now

They say that it’s hard for a company to shrink to greatness, but I do think that it’s possible to simplify to greatness. There’s been some moves in the e-reader world lately that raise the question, shrink or simplify.

Sony, the first mover in the dedicated e-reader world, recently announced that they will no longer make dedicated e-reading devices.

Beleaguered Barnes & Noble has arranged to separate the Nook e-reader and tablet business from the core retail book business. Interestingly, the new Nook division will also contain the campus bookstore business.

The proximate cause of both moves is pretty obvious: Amazon’s scorched-earth total disregard for profit in favor of growth and share strategy, and the cheap and innovative Kindle devices that it has spawned. Some also blame the iPad but I draw a distinction between the general-purpose tablet world (in which devices not called “iPad” are commodity) and the dedicated e-reader world where the key assets are a large and competitively priced book catalog and winning device design.

too low to power on

Sony never had a chance because they never had the bookstore. Barnes and Noble should have had a shot for the same reason, but they just couldn’t keep it together and fell behind in the hardware race. Maybe this is why Sony is giving up on the market while B&N is clinging to some kind of hope to either make it work or sell it off.

I wanted Barnes and Noble to win this one because I thought they had the brand and the following among people who read. Plus, I was annoyed with Amazon over text justification. Amazon started as a bookstore but has become so much more and in the process lost a clear connection to the reading public. But in the eyes of an independent bookstore lover, B&N is just as bad as Amazon. The e-reader for such folks is the seldom-mentioned Kobo, the indie darling despite being owned by ginormous ecommerce conglomerate Rakutan.

So B&N finds itself stuck in a vanishing middle. Indie readers won’t touch them because they’re corporate, so they lost that ground. Tablet buyers have no reason to buy a Nook tablet over a Nexus, a Fire, an iPad or a dozen other cheap imitators (including some from Sony and Kobo, btw). The stuff that e-ink reader devices differentiate on – battery life, screen resolution, frontlighting, weight and feel – are all done as well or better by Kindles and Kobos. And worst of all, Amazon wins the ebook price battle as often as not.

My advice to Barnes and Noble? It’s hard to say and harder to do, but it’s time to take this product line on a long walk in the woods. Drop the tablet business entirely, focus on the software for generic mobile devices, and recognize the e-reader for what it is: a loss-leader to sell more ebooks, which means it has to get priced way down, possibly to zero. It’s razors and blades, folks. Sharpen what’s sharp and don’t get tangled up in the rest.

If all it took to succeed in hardware was a big catalog of media, you’d see Netflix tablets and Hulu TVs all over the place. Even NPR’s cobranded internet radio didn’t turn many heads. Maybe the knob was weak.