Nothing brings a group of people together quite like the dinner table. Sharing a meal gets to the core of what a “community” is, a great social equalizer in ways few other everyday experiences can be.
Susan Caraballo is the artistic director of the ArtCenter/South Florida and has worked in the Miami arts community for over 15 years. Loren Pulitzer is a chef who specializes in vegan cooking and has working in a kitchen since she was 13 years old. Together they decided to pool their talents to do something that combined both of their specialties – food and the arts – that would also benefit individual artists and small arts organizations.
“There is a dearth of funding opportunities for artists and small nonprofits that don’t have a 501(c)3,” says Caraballo. “FEAST is geared towards individual artists and small organizations. It was really important to me to include small organizations under $100,000 because that’s the world I came from – we get a lot of support from the County but beyond that it’s really hard to get funding if you don’t have a 501(c)3.”
FEAST Miami is a series of pop-up vegan brunches and dinners at arts venues that provide financial support to new and emerging creative projects. Attendees enjoy a multi-course vegan meal prepared buy Pulitzer with wine (also vegan), then watch video presentations from the five finalists and vote on who will win upwards of $5,000.
Each event starts with Caraballo reaching out to a local arts venue, determining a date that works for a brunch or dinner, then putting a call out to artists and arts organizations for a relatively easy proposal through Submittable.com. They then gather five panelists from the arts community to score the proposals and determine a top five. The committee is always different, and neither Caraballo nor Pulitzer is ever on it.
FEAST is open to all disciplines, from performing arts to visual arts to film. “I come from the performing arts world and transitioned to visual arts. That was really important to me to not limit it to visual artists,” says Caraballo.
There are three criteria for artists and organizations to apply to FEAST: the project must be innovative, it must be feasible, and it must also impact the community.
“We do not define what the community component should be. We leave that up to them,” says Caraballo. “For this, this because it is such a community event anyway, we felt very strongly that it needed to somehow impact the community.”
The impetus for FEAST wasn’t just about granting funding to artists who otherwise have a hard time accessing it, but also about bringing different communities together. “We really wanted to do something together but bringing the community together was also really important,” says Caraballo. She explains that Pulitzer once initiated a monthly potluck she called “Family Dinner” that was always hosted at someone’s house, where everyone would bring a dish and some friends, who would then bring some of their own friends to the next event, and so on. The event series ran for three years. “She’s very interested in bringing people together and was doing that with food on a smaller scale. I’m constantly [connecting artists in my work]. We thought, ‘Why not do this in a bigger way?'”
When Caraballo first started researching organizations that were doing something similar to what she and Pulitzer were trying to do, she stumbled across a group called FEAST – “Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics” – in Brooklyn. The artist-run group had since gone defunct for lack of resources, but was helpful and supportive of Caraballo and Pulitzer, encouraging them to launch the same concept in Miami.
Caraballo then set to work applying for the 2013 Miami Knight Arts Challenge. They won $40,000 to support FEAST and held their first event in April 2014. This funding will allow them to hold 10 events through October 2016, though they hope to continue beyond that. FEAST also has $12,000 in support from Whole Foods, which offsets the food costs for each event. The grant money is used to pay expenses, while the money raised from event-goers goes to the artists.
Events range from $30-60 per ticket.
“It’s very important to us for it to be accessible,” Caraballo says. “I realize $60 is not accessible to everyone, but dinner out at a restaurant will cost that, and it is supporting a project.”
There are also sometimes take-home gifts like an art print or an option for discounted tickets to another arts event. Their most recent event, a brunch held at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, was held before a theatre performance happening that afternoon. Attendees had the option of buying just the brunch ticket or buying a discounted package that included the performance afterwards.
Events range from 60 to 200 people, depending on the venue. Regardless of the venue’s size, Caraballo and Pulitzer have set the standard that the winning artist will take home at least $3,000 from each event, and ticket prices are adjusted based on the seating capacity with that minimum grant amount in mind.