Philly Stake: Will Eat for Art

Want to have a say in your community’s art projects? All you have to do is buy a cheap dinner.

By Katherine Rochester
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 13, 2011

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Creative Juices: Philly Stakers vote on art during a three-course meal.

Photo by Alyssa Maloof

This weekend, do-good diners can grab their picnic blankets and head to Bartram’s Garden for Philly Stake’s third fundraising meal in support of local creative projects. The eponym is more than a clever pun; like its greasier namesake, Stake is a local delicacy with a knack for shaping the city’s culture. Since dishing up its first meal of locally sourced food last fall, Stake has doled out micro-grants to four home-grown projects by attracting a paying crowd of gourmand art enthusiasts.


Powered by the tireless work of more than 20 volunteers, Stake is one of 40 food-based grant initiatives around the globe that fund local projects with proceeds from ticketed dinners. Pioneered in Chicago in 2007, the idea for a community-funded art caucus spread like hot oil, skipping across state lines and sizzling in numerous donated frying pans. Acting as part of the umbrella organization the Soup Network, each local dinner accepts proposals for creatively engaged community projects, then puts the power in the hands of diners who vote for their favorite cause. 


“Affordable living, a wealth of arts schools and cultural institutions, and mayoral support has made Philadelphia a hub of creativity,” says Theresa Rose, Stake founder and lead organizer who saw potential for starting a Soup Network program in Philly after dining at a similar event in Brooklyn. “Philly was ripe for an opportunity like this.” The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage thought so too, offering Rose and fellow organizer Kate Strathmann a seed grant that would allow them to recruit a volunteer committee to help lay the groundwork for Philly’s first Stake dinner. Unlike most other Soup-affiliated programs, which unfold like intimate dinner parties between close friends, Stake’s committee boasts volunteers from various Philadelphia communities. “The diversity of our organizing committee is reflected in the diversity of the proposals we receive,” says Rose, who points out that while Stake funds creative projects, not all of them would traditionally be considered art.


“One project surprised me,” recalls Philip Glahn, Tyler School of Art professor and previous Stake diner who voted for the Refugee Urban Farm, a winning project that is now putting its $1,000 award to work planting a farm where recently resettled Bhutanese and Burmese refugees can grow food in the city. “It was quite impressive. I liked the global perspective.” 


Winnowed to 10 randomly selected projects, the most intriguing proposals for the upcoming Stake dinner digest Philly’s baffling weirdness by turning customs on their head—like the “Space Savers Project,” which takes aim at the uniquely Philadelphian habit of hogging parking spots. Swapping busted chairs for artfully constructed sculptures, this project asks: “Is saving a parking space with a thoughtful work of art as selfish and territorial as saving one with a cinder block, tethered to a street sign?” It’s an excellent question, whose answer may be revealed if curious diners vote to fund it over the citywide “Philly Thriller Dance 2011” or the “Tidal Schuylkill River Tour” projects. 


With a history of sold-out events, Rose and Strathmann have hit upon a winning model whose only issue may be capacity. Orchestrating a feast for 250 guests is a lot of work for people who already hold full-time jobs. “It’s really a labor of love,” says Rose. “The reason we do it is because we’re inspired by the creative community that exists here in Philadelphia.”

Sun., July 17, 5-8pm. $10-$20. 
Bartram’s Garden, 54th St. and 
Lindbergh Blvd. phillystake.org

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