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Conscious Alliance: Art That Feeds

Would you go out of your way to donate to the needy? That’s what Conscious Alliance, a Colorado-based organization, does through grassroots concerts and art all over the country.

Last fall, the organization held a food drive at the Riviera Theater at 4647 N. Racine Ave. In the hall of the venue they set up at a small table where concert-goers had the option of paying $10 or donating 10 cans of food for a poster of the featured band, Lotus. Concert security donated bottles of water and snacks they confiscated from ticket-holders, who ranged from ages 14 to 26.

Elena Ulyanova, a volunteer for the organization and donor of cans at grassroots concerts since she was 16, said they are hoping to raise as many cans as possible. Ulyanova is a native Chicagoan who went to college in Colorado, where she studied journalism and public relations.

“People like the posters, but it is really about the result,” Ulyanova said. “Also artists get really good exposure.”

Conscious Alliance is an organization started by Justin Baker. A college student at the time, Baker began helping the impoverished by gathering fellow students and friends to participate as food drive volunteers. Eventually he started the Conscious Alliance organization because he wanted to raise money for Indian reservations that are still heavily impoverished today. Now he is executive director of the alliance, which is run by Justin Levy.

Their tagline is “Art that Feeds,” because they raise money and food by approaching grassroots bands and asking them if they can create posters of the band to sell at their concerts. In the past they have collaborated with musicians such as The String Cheese Incident, STS9, Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Phil Lesh, and many others.

Artist Kris D. designed the poster for Lotus. His relationship with Conscious Alliance began eight years ago while he was touring with the founder. They were traveling with STS9; Kris D. was organizing live painting and Baker was holding food drives. Kris D. has formed a bond with the alliance and they contact him when they have an upcoming project. He says that he is in full support of the organization and that he is happy to help whenever he can. As for his inspiration behind the designs, he says that he directs his creative current into the art.

“Inspiration is something that is continually streaming through me,” said Kris D. “Its origins are of spirit, and I am just the one who helps facilitate it into some kind of art form.”

Conscious Alliance donates to many food banks, but they give the most of their earnings to the disparaged Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where 85 percent of the people are unemployed. The alliance successfully built a food storage and distribution facility on the reservation where emergency food supplies are given to more than 100 families at the end of each month. The alliance does not accept Ramen noodles because their efforts are geared toward donating food that is nutritious.

Since their creation in 2002, they have collected over 1 million pounds of non-perishable food.

In 2005, the alliance teamed up with Dave Matthews Band in New Orleans within days of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating ruin. They raised 30,000 pounds of food and nearly $100,000 that went to more food for the victims.

Catherine Ryan, 23, a volunteer for Conscious Alliance, said that when they do a concert in Chicago they donate all the food items to local food banks as opposed to sending the items out long distances.

“When we play at smaller venues it makes sense to donate to a local food bank,” Ryan said. “It’s amazing how many people are willing to give.”

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