by Claire Haasl
Recently I joined a small community for the last Sunday Soup at InCUBATE (Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and The Everyday). I was a little surprised at the amount of people that packed themselves in the small space of the orientation center at 2129 N. Rockwell. For those of you who have not been to a Sunday Soup, let me explain. It’s not an art exhibit. In fact, while I was there I saw very little art at all. The Sunday Soup is most simply put, a fundraising dinner. The public gather, pay a small amount for a soup dinner (say $10), and then vote on artist and/or community-based projects. After we finished the homemade Vegetarian potato kale soup, homemade bread, warm Swedish glögg wine, sweet potato salad, and bread pudding we were given a packet of six artists’ projects to vote on, and ballot for ranking our top three picks. The proposals ranged from travel grants, to renovation aid, to requests for help with materials and actual project funding. I could tell that people were excited that the money they had donated for dinner was going to be going to a project worthy of their ten bucks.
But, since this was a dinner, and people had been conversing with each other as they ate, getting to know someone new, or reacquainting with regular “souper,” I thought this process would be more conversational. It wasn’t. I thought we would talk to each other about the projects, learn from each other’s perspectives, but instead the process of choosing was very private and this bothered me a bit. I have been to a few panels where art is being voted on, and it is always a formal process of ayes and nays. There is never any food and there is always A LOT of discussion about each artist. With that being said, I have to wonder why this more casual, already conversational experienced suddenly became such a hushed and private process. Maybe this type of a public isn’t used to talking about art? Maybe they really were there for the soup? Maybe my expectations were too high?
And the night went on like this even after the voting was done. Dishes were collected the room was reorganized and the organizers gave a short presentation on the history of InCUBATE and how the Sunday Soup got started. They showed and discussed some past projects that were funded by the Sunday Soup and then the floor was opened for questions and comments. Silence. Well, truthfully a few people had a few things to say, but still I couldn’t get over how disjointed the conversation had gotten once the food was eaten and taken away. If with the silence, however, it’s still a good idea. It is a way for the organization to offer a “micro-granting” program to artists and organizations that for whatever reason may not be able to find funding elsewhere. The idea of a “charity dinner” where money is raised for a specific cause is not a new one, but it has always been a successful one; and it has been especially successful for InCUBATE. Not only have nine other organizations adopted their idea of “micro-granting,” InCUBATE has given away over $4,000.00 to more than 25 artists and organizations in the two and a half years they have been at the orientation center.
So what now? Well, there is hope for the Sunday Soup programming to continue. The Sunday Soup won’t be meeting in the orientation center anymore because the members of InCUBATE are moving on pursuing educational and fellowship opportunities that have come up. This means the space will be vacant as of Jan 1. (They have one last artist in residence for December.) It also means that AREA Chicago and the Underground Library will also be moving out of the space. They want to keep the Sunday Soup going and Jennifer Breckner and Matt are looking for alternative ways to make it work. Matt is talking with a church in Lincoln Square about using some space there. Jennifer has ideas about making it more of a host a Sunday Soup at your home type of thing. But nothing is concrete. My suggestion, adopt the phantom gallery model and activate our empty spaces and storefronts with soup. Oh, and more conversation of course!