April 13, 2012 —
A tried and true practice that has sustained many farms and the communities they serve is being creatively applied to a respected regional theatre. Having experienced the transformative power of community through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at Willow Wisp Farm in Damascus, PA, Tannis Kowalchuk, who assists husband Greg Swartz in operating the farm, began to see possibilities for a similar initiative at NACL Theatre in Highland Lake, where co-founder Kowalchuk is artistic director.
Now in its 12th season of innovative contemporary performance, film, music and art, NACL is bringing its homegrown product to the localvore movement through CSArts, based on the model of a farm CSA. A person or family would buy a share in the theatre at the beginning of the season and, as an invested member, reap the benefit of local arts produce.
The concept for CSArts was articulated by NACL associate artist Brett Keyser and evolved with the help of NACL supporter Sue Currier, who is also executive director of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy (DHC), a regional land trust.
Currier, a member of the farm CSA, reached out to Kowalchuk following a stroke suffered by the artist in August 2011.
The pair moved forward with the concept as Currier began working with NACL staff and board members to help them through a strategic planning process, to formalize their board structure and to put guidelines in place that will make it easier for more people to get involved.
“Sometimes it takes someone with a different perspective, a different set of skills, to help chart the next steps forward,” said Currier, who recently guided the DHC through a similar process.
“I’ve been fortunate to have developed some core skills related to general business and non-profit management, such as strategic planning, visioning, fundraising, educational outreach and governance,” explained Currier. “I absolutely love the opportunity to share these skills to help others.”
“We needed to change things, to grow, to re-formulate,” added Kowalchuk. “Sue’s been helping us develop a plan for sustainability and success.” Currier is helping NACL to define its role in the community and focus on how to keep the conversation going between shows. “One way is by becoming a CSArts member,” said Kowalchuk. “Just like at the farm pickups, people will be invited to see the work, enjoy the food and hang out, make time to gather, have a conversation and a shared experience around art.”
At each event, farm to table meals will be shared to encourage community building. “The direction we’re going in is to establish ourselves as an apex for local art and culture in the area,” said Kowalchuk. “We have a newly articulated vision beyond being a home for experimental art, a home for local culture supported by local people. With CSArts, we’re using the model of ‘bank on us,’ take a chance and trust that what we’re going to produce is something that you’re going to love.”
Kowalchuk is hoping that CSArts will create a similar sense of buy-in for NACL to that which happens through the farm CSA. “There’s that initial investment, and a trust that builds as people come to the farm every week,” said Kowalchuk. “They get to see the developments, the ebbs and flows, the flowers in bloom—and there’s a sense of belonging and community.
You’re in it together, and you ride it out together, the highs and the lows and the laughs in between.”
For Kowalchuk, the support of Currier and many others has contributed to her remarkable recovery. She credits the power of countless prayers offered on her behalf, as well as Qigong, walking and rest. For those who are concerned that she’s taking on too much too soon, Kowalchuk cited having a great team in place and added, “I’m going to ask for help this year.”
Currier has seen success of this sort through the DHC. “I think about all the wonderful skilled individuals we have in our community who may not realize the value of what they can bring to our small non-profits,” she said. “Many times people have done for us what I hope I’m doing for NACL—help us climb another step.”
“Most people want to have a theater in their community, because arts and culture and nice restaurants and innovative businesses are enriching” said Kowalchuk. “But we’re at the point where government funding is falling short. If a community wants to keep culture alive, they have to step up.
That’s something Americans do in such a gracious and open, generous manner. They give. It melts my heart.” The CSArts membership is $150 for an individual, $300 for a family. Visit www.nacl.org  or call 845/557-0694 for more information. See page 13 for NACL’s summer schedule.