Smile Politely

Cafe Kopi owner reflects on the past and future of displaying local artwork

For over a decade, Cafe Kopi has showcased and displayed artwork of all kinds, created by the communities local artists. Whether an amateur artist or an established one within the community, the local cafe proudly displays any and all forms, mediums, and styles. This past year, the coffee shop and eaterie updated its artist curating format in order to to make displaying and selling local artwork easier than ever.

If you’re interested (or know someone who is) in displaying your art at the cafe, check out the release from Cafe Kopi owner, Paul West, below:

Over the span of 25 years, I honestly can’t remember when we began to show local artwork. The original owner had the walls decorated with Balinese masks and tapestries, so we must have transitioned to paintings as the decade turned. I do however recall when we had the professional picture rail installed because the first artist we scheduled had two or three pieces composed of ceramic tile, testing its weight limitations. Since at least that year (2001), we have hosted shows every 6-8 weeks by area artists and photographers. What a treat to have so many talented people wanting to display their work to the public.

Although I believe more people are exposed to artwork at a café than a gallery (based on traffic alone), the long operating hours pose a problem of hanging pictures around seated customers. It’s intrusive to hover over patrons with a ladder, so the alternative is hanging a show when we’re closed, after midnight. Mostly, I’ve done it myself over the years, or paid employees. I have had a few independent curators, but it always made me anxious, for safety reasons, having essentially a sub-contracted hand at the café after hours. Another challenge is the logistics of coordinating three incoming artists with three outgoing, not to mention the numerous customer queries about purchasing a piece. (Sometimes a piece would sell after a show came down, and that meant verifying the artist and painting before arranging a meeting and transaction.) For interested curators, this sounded like a fun experience: getting to connect with artists, seeing original works, and maybe including the position on a resumé. It eventually wound up being more work than expected, so the duties reverted to the owner.

For many years, we didn’t take a commission on sales. I always felt the pieces were on loan from the artist and considered them part of the décor. The layout and feel of the original (orange) room has remained the same for almost 25 years, yet the artwork changes it slightly for the regulars. I love it when old customers return from the coast (or wherever) and fawn over their favorite café, which looks the same to them, and yet it’s a bit different. These moments reassure me that our efforts here aren’t in vain. In recent years, I’ve suggested that curators take a commission as incentive to promote the new shows on behalf of the artists, and it is this aspect that seems to tip a passive endeavor into the realm of work outweighing the rewards. (I can vouch for this concern, as such duty fell to me when we hosted jazz quartets, fifteen years ago.)

Last year I changed this curating model dramatically after growing tired of hanging art at 3:00 a.m. or training others to do it. Instead of having artist shows now, we accept a single piece from each artist and hang it when the wall space isn’t adjacent to an occupied table. As a piece sells, it’s easily replaced with another from the same artist, or from a different one. An established artist with a full body of work might disparage at this model, but we’re now able to represent even the dabbling artist, or an established one who may have a gallery show across town but a piece or two left over. Although patrons cannot expect a consistent style or theme, I find it refreshing to have pieces of varying sizes, style, mediums, and prices. There is always something for everyone, and I would estimate that we have sold an average of one piece a week since we began the new format.

With fifteen solid years of showing local artwork, we have amassed a good collection of artists to rotate, but fresh faces are always needed. Some leave town and the next generation often finds us, by chance or word of mouth. If you make art or photography (or know someone who does), please contact us by email, [email protected] for the information packet.

We’d love to see what you can do.

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