Sumptuary makes art out of tax on sin

Mike Stasny and Maggie Ginestra are orchestrate a perfect storm of restaurant, bar, and art gallery

To explain what Sumptuary is, it may be best to begin by explaining what Sumptuary is not.

It is not a bar. It is not a gallery. It is not a party. It is not a restaurant. It is not a nightclub. It is not a performance series. It's not quite one of those things, but it combines so many elements of each, it could easily be mistaken for any of them.

Sumptuary is, in fact, the brainchild of Atlanta couple Maggie Ginestra and Mike Stasny. Their idea is to create an intense five-week hub of artistic and social activity at Atlanta's MINT Gallery near the corner of Ponce de Leon and North Highland avenues, an all-comers welcome; open-door event series that seeks to meld all the best elements of bar, gallery, party and restaurant into a single cohesive concept, one that will fund experiential art and performances as they're being created in the venue through visitors' donations for the food and drink being served.

The "sumptuary" in the event's name is short for sumptuary tax, an old term for a sin tax, one that was typically levied on luxury items for consumption. Sumptuary will offer a simple, curated menu of beer, wine, cocktails, and food that will rotate throughout the five weeks, with money raised eventually serving to fund the artists. "The artists are taking on ambitious projects," Stasny says, "but they're inspired by joy. We're one foot in bar culture, one foot in gallery culture."

Sumptuary will open on the weekends, Thursdays to Mondays, from March 20-April 21. During the week, a series of five Atlanta artists will transform the space for the weekend's activities (the first artist, Marcia Vaitsman, plans to install swings and a playground). Thursday nights will be an opening night to celebrate each new installation's unveiling; Friday and Saturday nights involve performance artists, dancers, and DJs performing in the new space; Sunday afternoons are a more subdued, hang-out brunch with Bloody Marys and coffee; and a deinstallation event occurs on Mondays.

Stasny and Ginestra say the five-week experiment represents part of a longtime aspiration of finding a fun, social way to raise funds and create space for artists' non-commodifiable work. The couple arrived in Atlanta about two years ago. Having already played multiple roles in Atlanta's arts community during their short time here (as artists, curators, facilitators, administrators) they've quickly become central players. The lineup for Sumptuary - made up of the couple's friends, contacts, and colleagues - reads like a who's who in Atlanta art, with more than 40 top visual artists, dancers, performance artists, and even curators, all contributing. At Sumptuary, everything from the bar napkins to the videos on the TV above the bar and the bar itself will be a locus for artistic creativity of some kind.

The unusual funding system and the fun social environment will spur artists to try out new ideas and experiment, Ginestra says. If the ideas are intriguing enough to get people in the door and enjoying themselves, the projects could be well-funded.

Or there's always the daunting possibility the concept may not click with the city's fickle bar and art scenes. Still, it's a risk that Ginestra, Stasny, and the artists say they're all eager to take on. "We're kind of challenging ourselves to see if we can get people to come every night," Ginestra says. "We're being kind of ambitious, but every night is going to be this reimagining of the space. A lot of great people said yes to doing really great things. It has the right amount of playfulness and pressure."

Sumptuary. Thursdays through Mondays, March 20 - April 21. MINT Gallery, 636 N. Highland Ave. 404-946-8982. Mintatl.org.

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