Kentucky Voices: Community Supported Art is lively, lit-up and rousing the rabble

Ada Limón
is the author of three poetry collections.
Ada Limón is the author of three poetry collections.

By Ada Limón

Whether I like to admit it or not, I can be a little bit of a hermit.

Perhaps that's the curse of those of us obsessed with words and crafting small bits of language into larger bits of language. This writing profession of mine often means it takes me some time to get involved in a new community. (How can I get involved if my prime joy is staring out the window and thinking thoughts to myself?) In fact, when I first moved to Lexington from New York City a little more than three years ago, I was determined to take my reclusiveness to a whole new level. A house just outside the city with a view of green pastures seemed the ideal spot to hunker down and get the writing done.

But what has shocked and delighted me continuously since my move to the Bluegrass is that this city, known for its world-famous Thoroughbreds and award-winning bourbon, wholeheartedly champions the arts. Whether it's the rabble-rousing crowd at the Holler Poets series, where bourbon and poetry go toe-to-toe for attention, the amazing Teen Holler that encourages new voices to stand up and stand out, or Accents, the weekly radio show on WRFL dedicated to poetry, the poetry scene is lit up and lively.

Which is why it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that Lexington also boasts Kentucky's first CSA. And before you think I'm talking about one of those great, produce-packed, community-supported agriculture programs where you sign up for an abundance of eggplant or two tons of sweet potatoes from local farms, this CSA is different. This CSA is for art. The Lexington Art League established the Community Supported Art program last year as a way to connect local artists with a new audience. And it's working.

Last year alone, they produced three unique "crops," each with nine original pieces of artwork, which means shareholders had access to an array of locally grown, Kentucky-made creative work. From photography and sculpture to original music and poetry, each crop is well thought out and selected to represent the vibrancy of the artistic community.

A 2013 article in The New York Times extolling the virtues of the new CSA programs explained, "The goal, borrowed from the world of small farms, is a deeper-than-commerce connection between people who make things and people who buy them. The art programs are designed to be self-supporting: Money from shares is used to pay the artists, who are usually chosen by a jury, to produce a small work in an edition of 50 or however many shares have been sold. The shareholders are often taking a leap of faith. They don't know in advance what the artists will make and find out only at the pickup events, which are as much about getting to know the artists as collecting the fruits of their shares."

Just like any CSA, however, it can only be as good as what they're providing. If they're burdened by three crates of kale every week and no good tomatoes, the shareholders will stop coming. But, if my recent experience with them is any indication, I don't think that should be a problem. A few months ago, they asked if they could feature one of my poems in the fall 2014 crop. The poem is called The Other Wish, and I was paired with October Press to produce the broadside.

The whole process was perfect, but meeting Deborah Kessler of October Press might just have made me a CSA shareholder for life. When you are a poet with Mexican heritage and an accent in your last name, you get used to it getting left off, forgotten, or having to sign it yourself. It's even left off in books. But my accent was right there in the stunning letter press print. She also told me that she drove many, many miles to borrow an accent mark in the right font. Poets aren't used to that. Artists aren't used to that. But I guess that's something I'm learning to get used to here in the Bluegrass: a generosity, an abundance, a community.