The Coffee Shop as an Art Gallery

As a place to start out for artists who want to exhibit their work, the coffee shop can be a great introduction. However, here i wanted to share some of the issues I’ve come across from commercial spaces that also show art work. In particular the coffee shop.

Too many coffee shops think they can have art work on display as an added visitor attraction. I reckon that it must start at a meeting where someone suggests, ‘hey, let’s get some art on the walls’ and then ‘yeah, i know a local artist’ followed by some wholesome aim like ‘being part of the local community’ These are the things i hear the most.

While this is all fair and good, In itself is not enough of a reason to have art in your business. I wonder if these types of business have really thought any of it through and think of art in a coffee shop as simply a cheap way of doing something ‘creative’ along with selling coffee.

Better aims in my opinion, are

  • Having artists who will present your business as a creative space and increase footfall.

  • Create a changing and stimulating environment for your customers

  • Building the brand of your coffee shop as a destination that becomes known for great coffee AND art.

For this my first recommendation is hire a curator for this part of your business.

Curators for business spaces will understand the business objectives even if the coffee shop owner doesn’t.

All of this can be done with local artists, but why not cast the net wider than the immediate locality.

Then invest in picture rails to make the install and take down quick, simple, efficient and reduce damage to the walls. Not doing this can mean paying staff to stay late while changing exhibitions, And it can mean interrupting customer service time while you have people hanging art work when the customer should be able to simply enjoy their coffee and conversations without hammering and like, going on all around them.

The next thing a curator will do for you is manage artists enquiries or arranging a call out and then filtering the suitable requests. If you are a business owner then running your business should be your priority, do you really want to delegate this - which can be time consuming work - to a junior staff member. One of the worst cases of art selection I’ve seen in a cafe deli was a whole load of paintings of close up vaginas across two walls. It was not something anyone wanted to see while eating a panini…

How did this come about - well, the owner had said yes to showing the work of an artist and not gone through what the artist could and couldn’t show. While I don’t advocate censoring artists, some consideration does need to be made, around the suitability of the work on display in relation to the environment in which it shown.

The artist’s website and emails had not been clear on what they wanted to display at the deli and the exchange was done heavily by email. Rather than setting boundaries of what their deli brand was, what they considered suitable etc, they simply discussed available dates.

And the next step was the install. In the interim the artist had produced new work - of the vaginas - and this was the exhibition. A curator would have worked closely with the artist and set guidelines around what could be shown in that space. Unfortunately the deli owner chose to manage (or rather, not manage) this aspect herself, and the show was quite a turn off. Sadly the cafe deli no longer exists.

Art in business spaces such as coffee shops are indeed the starting out point for many artists, they want to show and exhibit as much as possible, and cafes can be accessible ways to do this.

But just as the artist is looking to show in a coffee shop that

  • supports their brand,

  • that attracts customers who would also be their potential art patrons,

  • Is known as a recurring art environment

  • gives them a credible group or solo exhibition

I feel that coffee shops and delis need to be considering more with their selection of artists.

And my one piece of advice is this is not something to DIY if you care about your business. It’s time to hire a curator to manage this for you.

They will advise the best hanging solutions for your space, manage the install and change over of art work and mediate any sales enquiries, so you can get back to the business of selling coffee.

Managing enquiries from artists, selecting the ones appropriate for the space, that build on the shop’s brand rather than harm it, work with the owners for a final exhibiting schedule. promoting the exhibition to get more people into the business - these can all be covered by a good curator.

It doesn’t mean that as the owner or manager of the space you will have no input. instead it means that as the business owner

  • you will be presented with a short list of suitable art works

  • have the exhibition schedules arranged

  • know that install, take down will be overseen with minimal disruption

  • exhibition promotion will be taken care of.

In short, it will be an efficient experience that promotes your own coffee shop business aims.

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