It’s no secret the ailing economy has left many nonprofits limping along. Burlington’s South End Business and Arts Association (SEABA) is no exception. That means its signature event, the South End Art Hop, is imperiled. It takes money to put on this wildly popular annual art fest, scheduled for September 11 and 12, and funds have been harder to come by this year.
Steve Conant, owner of Conant Metal & Light, is a founding member of SEABA and a past board member. His building complex on Pine Street, dubbed the Soda Plant, has long participated in the Art Hop and has hosted the event’s juried show. Like many businesspeople in the South End, Conant is highly imaginative, and he wasn’t about to take this financial-duress thing sitting down. But he’d like supporters of the arts to do just that: Conant has invented a “chairity.” And, yes, it has something to do with chairs.
The Soda Plant Design/Build Challenge backs up Conant’s contention that “in this economy, it is more important than ever to have fun and support the things we value.” The clever fundraiser asks creative types to design and build, or rebuild, “really cool chairs,” which will be shown and judged (by the public) during this year’s Art Hop. Artists, architects and carpenters may have an advantage here, but anyone can have a go.
While there is a small fee to enter the competition — $50 for individuals, $100 for businesses — each chair has decent odds of winning one of five cash prizes: Best of Show, Best Remake, Most Creative, Most Fun and Most Comfortable. Conant is looking for corporate and individual sponsors to provide the cash. Event coordinator Nancy Warren is tasked with finding it.
Finally, all the chairs will be available for purchase via silent auction, and the proceeds will be split 50:50 with the artists. While there’s no official limit to the number of chairs that can be entered, Conant is guesstimating bidders will see upward of 50. The whole affair will be held in the Soda Plant during the Art Hop — or under a tent in the parking lot if it doesn’t fit indoors.
ReCycle North, as well as SEABA, is a beneficiary of the Design/Build Challenge. In fact, sponsorships and entry fees will be payable to ReCycle North, which can receive tax-deductible donations. The earth-friendly principle of that nonprofit, which spares household goods from the landfill, informs the Design/Build Challenge, too: The chairs must be “at least 50 percent recycled, repurposed or reused,” Conant instructs. Other rules? Each seat must be no bigger than 36-by-36-by-60 inches, must weigh under 200 pounds, and must be functional. “You have to be able to sit in it,” specifies Conant. Of course, “Someone could make one that is incredibly uncomfortable but is still functional.”
Conant expects this year’s fundraiser to be the first annual. But the design/build challenge probably won’t involve chairs next time — even if that means sacrificing the cute term “chairity.” Other possibilities include “a musical instrument, a light fixture, a small building, a vehicle,” Conant muses. “It might be just about anything.”