When Soup N’at launched in May of 2011, three women in the arts led the charge to create a grassroots organization that provides microgrants to artists from every discipline.
Lisa Brahms, Tirzah DeCaria and Becky Gaugler got the idea from an independent network of events called Sunday Soup. “The idea looked really cool and we thought Pittsburgh should be a part of that—it’s a great way to give support to local artists,” says Gaugler.
The women looked at models from other cities like Chicago and Detroit and set out to launch Pittsburgh’s version, holding its first events at The Brew House.
“The Brew House had an art gallery but in between exhibits, we would take over the entire first floor and make an industrial space look comfortable and friendly. We had volunteers come in to make soup and help out.”
The women managed Soup N’at as volunteers and the organization held events for three years before going on hiatus for about a year in 2014, as their careers and family lives evolved.
This year, the organization reemerged from its hiatus and in January hosted a sold-out event at The Union Project. Over 200 people paid $10 to share soup, hear five artists talk about their projects and have an opportunity to vote for a project that would be awarded the grant from proceeds collected that evening. The evening ended with two projects in a tie: Elana Schlenker’s 76<100 and Pop-Up Premieres, a film series from black filmmakers at Boom Concepts in Garfield.
The second event is slated for May 17th at The Union Project and organizers want to encourage artists to attend.
“What is interesting about Pittsburgh is that many volunteers who have been to similar events in other cities have shared that the biggest challenge has been getting people to come to events, but our challenge has actually been getting artists to participate,” shares Gaugler.
“Artists may feel intimidated by the fact that they have to present to a big crowd. We want them to feel comfortable. For the last round and the next, we are coaching each artist in the crafting of their pitch over the phone or in person. We are also going to support each applicant with marketing assistance before and after the event to further break comfort barriers,” adds DeCaria.
The organizers want artists from every discipline to participate. “We do not have any curating, we want it to be as open as possible—it’s first-come, first-served and we try to have four to six artists or groups at each event,” explains Gaugler.
Soup N’at events are warm and festive, with a very supportive audience. “It’s BYOB and we have musicians plus great soup and bread donated by restaurants. Artists have received anywhere from $500-$1000 depending on how many attendees we have,” says Gaugler.
Judging from Soup N’at’s numbers—they had to turn people away at the door in January—people come hungry to support the arts in our community. According to Gaugler, 75 percent of January’s attendees had never been to a Soup N’at event before and intend to come back. They are planning for 250 attendees for their May 17 event.
Gaugler adds that the microgrants are only one aspect of the event. “While not every project presented is funded, every artist creates awareness for their project and many have received support from members of the audience. It’s a great side effect.”