When planners and community leaders look at an old neighborhood which is in need of revitalization efforts, a common train of thought is to appeal to a community of artists. They are willing to live in low income areas (either by choice or out of necessity) and work to improve those areas through their artistic abilities.But project cost money, and even if it’s a small art project, a few hundred dollars to work with can be hard to come by. Traditional methods of finding investors, writing grants, or hitting up your friends are becoming more and more difficult in a global economy that is still economically suffering.

That’s where the concept of Sunday Soup comes in. The idea is simple, yet effective. And it’s working around the world. This form of microfinancing involves a light meal, a common meeting place for artists, and a vote to see who’se project gets funded.

Recently at a RougueHAA panel, artist and Detroit SOUP co-founder Kate Daughdrill explained what happens at Detroit Soup. Once a month(ish), the group meets above the Mexicantown Bakery in Southwest Detroit. Everyone who decides to show up has to pay a cover charge, typically $5. People from the art community start to chit chatter, meet new friends and catch up with old ones. They enjoy a meal of tortilla soup and bread while artists address the congregation and pitch their art project.

A World full of Soup

According to the sundaysoup.org website, SOUP dinners are all over the world

Artist and Detroit SOUP co-founder Kate Daughdrill

Artist and Detroit SOUP co-founder Kate Daughdrill

The projects can range from one side of your consciousness to another. It can be something as simple as painting some buildings in the back of an alley way, or something as out of the ordinary such as the Stair Street Ghosts project proposed at the Artist Bailout, a SOUP in Los Angeles, California.

After a handful of people pitch their projects and the people finish up their meals, off they go to the voting booth (keep in mind, “booth” is a relative term to however the winner is decided) to cast their vote for who had the proposal they most want to see come to fruition.

Once the votes are  tallied up, the winner receives the attendance take for the evening to put towards making their vision to life.

This experience benefits everyone involved. It allows a way for artists to come together and exchange ideas, to collaborate in a friendly and social environment. Hopefully, with public art projects the artists can help bring an area to life, even better if it creates a place where they want to move to, or enhance where they’re already living. A stronger community is created through collaboration and supporting each other, and SOUP dinners are great for both of these.

You can localize your SOUP with restrictions, as to target what you want to happen. For example, if your goal is to create art in a certain neighborhood, you may want to have a SOUP just for that area, or for a month only have it so that proposals must be for a proposal in that neighborhood. There are many ways you can get creative with SOUP dinners and make them work for your specific goals and needs.

A SOUP by any other name may exist in your town. In San Francisco, they have the Living Arts Fund, Texas has the newly-founded Fort Worth Dish Out, and Portland artists can get help at Portland Stock. They all have similar rules and setups, some will fund a single project and others may fund multiple projects from a same dinner. Some keep it simple with $5 or $10 donations, and others require a larger contribution as to attract and build much larger or more expensive art projects.

It goes beyond art as well, right up the road from me in Rovesville, MI, CU@SOUP run by the Christian Financial Credit Union uses their SOUP to find microgrants for small business startups. The same concept applies, even when a different crowd is involved. Entrepreneurs are drawn to networking events like moths to a flame, throw in some food and the chance to help spark new economic life and you have a winning combination.

SOUPs can be used in a variety of ways, all you have to do is step up and be creative. This is a truly grassroots neighborhood effort that can not only strengthen a community through creating neighborhood development, the improvement of aesthetics, and even potential for economic development.