By Emily Clingman-Johnson
When Lauren Howell won an award for the best community art idea last October, she was so happy she cried. Howell participated in Supper Club; a new event sponsored by Art Lab. Art Lab is an experimental art space that transforms empty storefronts into locations that house working artists, gallery shows and music events. Currently located at 239 Linden Street, the space puts on the Supper Club event every three months. During each Supper Club, local artists deliver presentations to a crowd on why they should receive money to fund an artistic idea.
“I thought it might have been a popularity contest – like each artist would bring as many guests as they could to vote for them,” Howell said. “But it wasn’t like that at all. There lots of people there because they love art and wanted to support us.”
Howell won $1,000 to launch a guided painting class she’s been wanting to teach for some time. She studied fine art at Colorado State University and was also a certified swim instructor for four years. She realized there might be a connection between the two.
“I love art, of course, but I also know how to break something complicated down into steps,” she said, referring to her swimming classes.
She wondered if the community would be interested in a painting class that was taught in steps. She offered several trial classes to her friends and the response was positive, so she created a presentation to bring the Supper Club table.
Competing against the other artists was a bit daunting for Howell. There was a photographer, a children’s book author and a one-man band, for example, but Howell believes she came out on top that night because her idea involved the community and it had a long-term vision. She’d like to open her own school in the future.
Her idea proved to be a winner. She won the first Supper Club award. Now she’s teaching guided painting every Wednesday at Tasty Harmony in Old Town. Lately, she’s had to turn people away; it’s becoming so popular.
“The class is perfect for beginners,” Howell said. “It you have any dexterity at all; if you can write in cursive, you’ll be fabulous.”
Howell is really excited about her Supper Club win. At 25 years old, it was just the thing she needed to commence her art career.
Supper Club started last fall. Dawn Putney, Co-Founder of Art Lab, explained that similar events around the country inspired the idea. It also was inspired by Art Lab’s involvement with kickstarter.com, an online microgifting program, which funded a $3,500 PA system for the lab through online donations.
“We received local and national donations,” Putney said. “We even received one from Singapore.”
Art Lab is open to all artists but many lack the financial resources and professional skills that could help them succeed. Putney, with the help of others at Art Lab, came up with Supper Club to help local artists take their talent to the next level.
Here’s how it works: Eight artists are selected to present their idea to an audience who pays $15 each to eat dinner and vote for the best idea. Each artist has five minutes to win over the crowd, and the winner takes away 99% of the money that comes through the door. Area restaurants donate all the food, so the cost to host the event is virtually free. Depending on how many people attend, the winning artists could walk away with $1,000-$1,500.
“It’s kind of a combination of kickstarter.com and a sort of church basement mentality,” said Putney, thinking back to the days she attended church potlucks with the community.
The artists pay, too.
“Artists need to support one another,” she said.
In 2009, local painter, Chris Bates started a giant mural on the wall of Beaver’s Market. But when the economy went downward, funding for the project dried up. After attending the first Supper Club in October to support the art scene, he decided to present his own idea at the next one.
Bates requested Supper Club money to finish the mural at the market. Well known for his other murals on Enzio’s Italian Restaurant, Big Al’s and inside Big City Burrito, the group in attendance knew he had the talent and capacity to complete another one. Bates believes in was his outreach to the community that won him $1,500 in January.
“Whenever you add kids to the mix, it add value to the project,” said Bates, who went on to explain that he invites area school groups to come out for a field trip to observe him work and to learn about painting. He also hosts on-site trainings to local artists on planning and completing a large public mural.
Even if Bates hadn’t won the Supper Club award, he still would have enjoyed the experience.
“Supper Club is one of the coolest ideas ever,” Bates said. “It’s a real feel-good event. Everyone comes away inspired.”
Find out more about the Fort Collins Art Lab and the Supper Club at artlabfortcollins.org. You can find Art Lab in Old Town at 239 Linden Street.