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Feeding St. Louis’ starving artists: Soup dinner to fund community projects

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Image courtesy of Sloup Facebook

Image courtesy of Sloup Facebook

Potential cash for a project you cooked up, a space for a little creative inspiration, and soup. All of these can be found one Sunday evening every month at Sloup, a dinner party designed to fund and promote the ideas of local artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and organizers. Spectators pay $10 to attend; food, beer, and a ballot are included. At the end of the night, voters choose one winner to be awarded 100% of the money to support their respective project.

The masterminds behind Sloup are Washington University alumnae Maggie Ginestra and Amelia Colette. Pursuing masters degrees, the two artists were living in St. Louis when they launched the project. February 21, 2010 marked Sloup #1. Four years and countless soups later, more than $21,000 has been raised to support 44 grassroots projects. As the founders moved away to follow their careers, four more young women – Zoë Scharf, Tara Pham, Karen Mandelbaum, and Becca Moore – took on the venture.

A network of similar soup dinners exist in cities like Detroit and Brooklyn, but St. Louis Sloup is special. Thanks to donations of food and space, meeting monthly is possible and every dollar raised can go directly to the winner. “Some other cities’ programs, for example, happen only quarterly or take a small fraction of the proceeds to support the program itself,” says Sloupie Tara Pham, “St. Louisans’ generosity and sense of community make Sloup thrive in ways we could have never imagined.”

Sloup provides a unique platform to voice visions and connect with like-minded folks. Even those going home without the grand prize have an opportunity win the crowd’s approval. Participants often find ways to rally support or collaborate with other artists and organizations.

Last weekend, was one the biggest Sloups yet, drawing a whopping 165 people. Just steps away from SLU, #41 was one of first events at the new KDHX studios (3524 Washington Avenue). Upon entry, attendees took their pick of a tomato bisque or shrimp gumbo catered by Triumph Grill, and one of four local brews provided by Schlafly and Urban Chestnut. After some mingling time, each speaker was given a strict two minute time limit to sell their idea.

This time around, seven ideas were proposed including one from Circus Harmony, a reigning Sloup champion. This group hoped to use winnings to sponsor a trip for a project called Peace through Pyramids, a long-term partnership they’ve created with a Jewish/Arab Galilee Circus in Israel. The young spokeswoman held her own with the patent personality of a performer and concluded her pitch with a split.

The night’s winner was proposed by organizers of the Take Back St. Louis campaign, which aims to create a more sustainable future for the city by investing tax dollars in distributed development, green jobs and renewable energy. Mark your calendar for April 8th when you can hit the polls for a city-wide election on this initiative. The Sloup grant will be used to install “idea boards” in vacant lots around St. Louis. On these boards, neighborhood residents can write how they want to use that space. A sample idea board at the event included suggestions like community gardens, playgrounds, and chicken coups. Projects involving public art and community involvement like the Take Back St. Louis idea boards are a Sloup favorite.

Encouraging a strong local community, Sloup coordinators find creative ways to expose the participants to places and people they may not have encountered otherwise. Each month, the event is hosted in a different venue and a different neighborhood. Past sites include Upcycle Exchange on South Grand, Black Bear Bakery on Cherokee Street, the Contemporary Art Museum in Grand Center and even someone’s living room.

The intimate atmosphere Sloup has embraced is one of it’s charming qualities. As attendance increases, turning to bigger spaces becomes necessary. “For example,” says Pham, “One of my favorite Sloups ever was at Flowers to the People, a small florist shop on Cherokee Street; a shop like that is unfortunately much too small to hold a Sloup now.” Small venues will still be considered, but only during warmer months when stepping outside for some wiggle room is an option.

With no budget for food, venues, or marketing, Sloup is entirely dependent on donations. Still, the biggest challenge still seems to be getting proposals. The opportunity to share an idea at Sloup is free and open to anyone. Simply submit a one-page proposal prior to the event describing your project and explaining how the money will be spent.

Students looking to step off campus and explore St. Louis’ creative scene can contact stlsloup@gmail.com for volunteer opportunities. Help is needed coordinating and staffing the events, as well as tuning up the website. You could even submit an idea of your own and become the next Sloup victor. No matter your level of involvement, be sure to come out February 23 and support community arts at Sloup #42.

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