Cafe Art – “where homelessness, great art and coffee meet”
Since creating Cafe Art in 2012 founders Paul Ryan and Michael Wong and their team have been working on different projects to help those affected by homelessness; recognising their talents and providing a unique platform to help in an inspiring way. Working with almost all of London’s homelessness organisations they collect beautiful art drawn by artists and have exhibited their works in over 15 cafes across London. They have also exhibited in several organisations including Allen & Overy, Christie’s, Citigroup, The Gaurdian, Ikea and Southwark Cathedral.
Cafe Art aims to connect the art buyer to the artist over a cup of coffee where the art is hung, exchanging their stories over a shared love of art. We chat to Paul who tells us more about the creation, the 5 different projects currently running and what the future holds for Cafe Art…
(Image above) 2018 Calendar – December: Tower Bridge reflection, Southwark: Christopher McTavish took this shot of Tower Bridge reflected from a City Hall . “My photography is full of reflections and shadows. It was nice to see the view that the mayor of London has.” Christopher belongs to the Choir With No Name, a choir set up for people who have experienced homelessness. From a small town east of Toronto, Canada, he came to London in 1971, originally intending to stay “for summer”. In 1998 and 1999 he was homeless in London but he is now living in a housing association flat in Chelsea. Christopher says he was adopted and this background has motivated him to volunteer for a Chinese adoption charity, helping people from overseas to adjust to the UK.
Qbic x Cafe Art UK:
Tell us about the idea and journey that was taken to create Café Art?
Paul and Michael created Cafe Art in 2012. Michael was already hanging art by homeless people in London cafes, and Paul had run a photography project with homeless and marginalised people in Vancouver, Canada. They decided to work together on both projects – the art and the photography.
Tell us about the different workshops and projects that are ran by Café Art?
Cafe Art now has five projects: the art in cafes, the photography project (MyLondon), an art and photography rental scheme, an annual exhibition in Spitalfields Market and an annual exchange of art with homeless organisations around the world – we exchange paintings with New York, Berlin, Melbourne and Mumbai.
Click here to read more on the 5 current projects.
(Image above) 2018 Calendar – May: Infinity, Westminster: David Fussell says he was waiting to get a shot of a bird or a plane when this view presented itself. “Right in front of me was a frame within a frame within a frame.” David, who sleeps rough, used to be a film maker. “After my home flooded, I lost the property. I came back to London from Essex. To me London is home.” “A part time job has allowed me to get a 2nd hand MacBook Pro and audio interface to progress with my music and film making, finishing a film called Mystic Demon Killer. The bench I sometime sleep on is near R.A.D.A and I have even recorded some Foley sound effects for my film on that bench. I’m hoping to progress in both my own projects and get some freelance work with a media company or some creative individuals, as this is what I used to do previously.”
What does a typical day at Café Art look like?
It depends on the time of year, as we spend three months working with homeless people selling the annual MyLondon calendar in London markets. A lot of that involves coming back to our base – the Qbic Hotel – where we store the calendars! Qbic have been incredible in helping us grow as we have photography training sessions and we meet in the Qbic restaurant on Saturdays, then go for walks in the local area.
Are there any particular projects or partnerships that you are really proud of?
We are particularly proud of the partnership with Qbic last year. Qbic wanted photos of the local area and came to us – so our photography mentoring group, which is run by volunteers from The Royal Photographic Society, went out and took shots of London. We are proud that we have photos in every room in the hotel!
(Image above) 2018 Calendar – April: Keep Moving, Canary Wharf: “I wanted to capture the stillness on the escalator before they enter the fast pace outside”, says Karina who took this shot in Canary Wharf Station. “Bankers, tourists and the homeless on their daily routine.” “In school I was bullied which interfered with a lot of my education. Things where disrupting at home. I got removed from home at 14 and by 15 I was homeless. I ended up in shelters and never got permanent accommodations. Then I got help and was able to stay in a shelter. “Sometimes we can get knocked off our path” says Karina who heard about the contest in the art class run by One Housing in Camden. “We cannot stay down. We need to keep moving forward. If you feel your physical wellbeing is down then keep up your mental wellbeing. The battle will not be lost unless you accept defeat. I am grateful for the things around me. I keep everything moving.”
From meeting homeless people and hearing their stories can you tell us about any in particular that have stood out to you and how Café Art has helped?
Just this month one of our long-term calendar sellers was housed in a hostel. Her name is ‘Lady’ and she had persistently refused to take up offers of a room. She would turn up at our table in Spitalfields with her shopping trolly with all her possessions. The amazing thing is that she’s now in a hostel and we are very proud to be helping her get back on her feet by selling the calendar. Her goals are simple: a smart phone, a laptop and a bank account.
What can we expect to see happening with Café Art in the future?
We would love to see if we could help people start Cafe Art in other parts of the UK. We already help people and organisations run the “MyCity” project (the calendar project) in Sydney, Budapest, New Orleans and Toronto.
Click here to find out more about the Qbic Hotel and Cafe Art UK partnership.