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5 min read - Wednesday 31st November 2021 
Are Art Cafes the new Grass-root Galleries?
By Lois Freeman

Independent cafes across the country are beginning to create artistic micro-economies by offering up their walls to local artists, re-centralising their place at the heart of the community.

Instead of decorating their rooms with machine-made art, Art Cafes create rich, creative environments with the works of local makers. Artworks are bought by the public, and the money goes directly into the artist’s pocket. This allows talented, emerging artists to establish their names and their practices at no expense to the cafe. It not only creates a regenerative and exciting exhibition of work, but also nurtures a community-led art scene which disrupts the hierarchical network of high-street and commercial art. The system mirrors non-western communities across the world where vibrant street-art scenes take precedence over commercial galleries.

A beautiful example of this is ‘The Gnome Cafe’ in Maldon, Essex. I stumbled into this newly opened cafe to find their walls plastered with every medium imaginable, from classical still-lifes to bold lino prints and hauntingly abstract cyanotypes. Their instagram describes their search for ‘weird & wonderful, young & radical artists’, which is reflected in their diverse and inspiring exhibition. They say that they have ‘made many sales’ and in the new year will be ‘hosting art workshops lead by our resident artists...themed around climate action and our local ecosystems’ to make the youth of Maldon ‘feel less hopeless’ in the face of climate catastrophe. 

Image description: Photograph of ‘The Gnome Cafe’ in Maldon, Essex which shows the walls of the cafe filled with the work of local artists.

The cafe demonstrates the inevitability of creative commerce, indulging our human desire to buy, yet reframes it in an ethical, environmental manner.  Aesthetic art is an essential element of our culture, bringing life and warmth to our homes and reflecting our personal and political beliefs. Choosing to buy local art means reducing the disastrous effects that manufacturing and shipping commercial art has on our planet. It also creates a circular economy between residents of a town or city. By purchasing art, you are directly supporting an individual, instead of a big corporation. This fosters a culture of equality, where artists, exhibitors and consumers all benefit.

Modern cafes have become multifunctional environments, serving their community in more ways than just food and drink. Art Cafes like ‘Deptford Does Art’ have expanded their offerings to include nighttime exhibitions, the sale of handmade gifts, creative workshops, and live performances.

‘Deptford Does Art’ is a celebration of local culture and a space where artists can meet and inspire one another. They offer affordable exhibition spaces for an artist’s first show, aiming to diminish artistic elitism by implementing the belief that ‘art is for everyone.’ They strive to change how we shop by holding small-scale retail events like ‘Indie Made Christmas’ and this year’s ‘ILLUSTRATION + PRINT OPEN’, which accepts every submission it receives to create an authentic landscape of the local community through print. It joins other art cafes in cultivating an artistic environment that is both accessible and adaptable.

Image description: Two images of ‘Deptford does Art’. The first shows a group of people sitting around a table partaking in an art workshop, surrounded by an exhibition of modern, abstract art. The second image is an illustration of their shop-front, courtesy of their website:

‘Cafe Art’, ‘where homelessness, great art, and coffee meet’, explores how the power of the institution, through the act of framing and therefore recognising something as ‘art’, can bring money and success. It empowers homeless artists by hanging their work on the walls of cafes across the country, hoping to increase their confidence, and infuse the art market with the ideas of underrepresented voices. The initiative demonstrates how art cafes can dismantle systemic boundaries by allowing talented artists to access their captive audiences.

Image description: Two images of cafe walls hung with the work of homeless artists, organised by ‘Cafe Art’, London. The first image shows a cafe corner with busy walls showing vibrant graphic work and the second shows a row of photographs across a cafe brick wall.

By shrugging off the temptations of commercial interior design, art cafes can create unique displays that celebrate the talent of the local community. Their commitment to supporting the important growth of emerging artists establishes an open, diverse, and community-owned art scene. By capitalising on their coffee-wanting customers, they offer an exciting platform for launching artistic careers. 

Gatekeeper Magazine© 2021