Café Art produce a yearly calendar out of the MyLondon photography contest and exhibition, supported by The Royal Photographic Society and endorsed by Homeless Link. It is currently on sale online and will launch officially at Spitalfields Arts Market on World Homelessness Day, Monday 10 October, 2016.
I met Michael right at the beginning, when the dream had just found a name.
Some years ago my coffee-loving Kiwi-bird flatmates returned from an East London fair with a flyer: Café Art it said, as I recall – a humble print out with a few words on homelessness and an e-mail address.
I was in the midst of curating artwork for the launch of Kahaila Café, a commission driven by a desire for a multi-purpose space that would host and foster community, contributing to Bricklane’s iconic creativity. Now I had cubic metres of floorspace anticipating years of coffee-fuelled confessions and inspired debates about the joys and absurdities of life, and as much wall space awaiting to be filled with counterpoint artistic expression.
It has always seemed to me that placed in interiors, artwork acts much like windows – breaking up the planes of walls and reminding us of what lies outwith. They stretch our imaginations and probe our memories, part of a geometric dialogue, stories on the pages of our walls. There was complete coherence in including the voice of the city’s streets in a space seeking dialogue with the city.
Michael’s story was very simply given. He was certainly not “artistic”, but had responded to a growing awareness of London’s homelessness by volunteering. Over time, he correspondingly noted the quality of art produced in workshops and the repetitive prints adorning the walls of the city’s booming hospitality sector. 1+1... Café Art arose as a platform to give a voice to some of the most unrecognised of unrecognised artists, to validate perspectives born of experience, to affirm creativity.
“The purpose”, I remember him saying, “is to provide the world with an opportunity to engage with this art and its artists”. For someone who was "not an artist”, here was a firm grasp on the personal growth that accompanies creation, on the value of sharing to creating community and shaping culture.
Kahaila launched its Bricklane context for community in the fine company of artist Mateus' compelling black and white acrylic abstracts.
Café Art now has an international presence. In addition to bringing together "homelessness, great art and coffee", it yearly produces a My London calendar presenting the city as viewed by its homeless photographers. It is one of the outcomes of a photographic competition, when 105 disposable Fuji cameras are given out with training offered by the Royal Photographic Society. Twelve photographs are chosen by a panel of judges including the likes of Amateur Photographer magazine, Christie's and Ken Lennox.
You can support this project by buying a calendar and photographs on Kickstarter until Saturday 10th September.
And if you are in need of artwork with a story, this is a fine place to start.