Coffee and art

Tacoma is ripe for a partnership between the two

By Alexander A. Youngblood on August 18, 2011

Where there is coffee there is often art, and art shapes our culture. Tacoma's coffee scene is expanding more and more every day. Just drive down Sixth Avenue and you'll spot the likes of Bluebeard, Caffe Dei, Satellite, Starbucks, Metronome, Valhalla, Forza and eventually Java Fusion. From big companies to people who simply decided to start a business, there is a flourish of coffee shops making their own impact on our arts scene.

Recently I sat down with Israel Hickey, currently of Metronome Coffee and employed in the coffee scene for the last 10 years, and Adam Monohon, a local fine art photographer, to talk about where the world of art stands with the world of coffee.

As a town, Tacoma is an enigma - not quite big, but definitely not small. For artists it can be difficult to find strong venues. "I feel like in this town people are more likely to practice whatever art they have in a coffee shop setting," Hickey offers, saying Tacoma needs coffee shops to be a safe place to go for artists to display.

Monohon doesn't feel like Tacoma has reached that point yet.

"I feel like support for artists in coffee shops is pretty weak," says Monohon. "Coffee shops seem to focus more on open-mic nights and really underground bands."

In the past, locations like Origin 23 (which inhabited the space where Metronome Coffee now resides) and Beyond the Bridge Café regularly showcased artists - but both coffee shops have since closed, leaving a noticeable void.

"You get the sense that Tacoma wants so badly to be strongly artistic. You can feel that yearning within the scene," says Hickey. "It seems like it's constantly in that holding pattern of yearning for it rather than attaining it."

But why is that? Tacoma has a rich and deep artistic history to draw from.

"It's just a matter of numbers," Hickey says. "The scene here is small - but it is devoted."

Hickey says some of the most obvious difficulties come down to a lack of venues.

"There isn't anywhere other than a few higher end galleries where you (can) get your art shown," he points out.

Tacoma's history is very unique. In the past the city has been infamous. But that time has come and gone. Today, we can choose to turn our history into positive energy or try to bury it. Hip-hop artists have an opportunity to express our history in a unique way. I asked Hickey if he'd ever seen a hip-hop artist approach any of the coffee shops he has worked at.

"Not really," he tells me. "I would love to see that happen, but the thing is there is no coffee shop that is going to go find them. ... I think coffee shops need to be looking, especially in a place like [Tacoma]."

It's true: coffee shops are not widely known for their art diversity.

"It's really focused," says Monohon. While coffee shops understandably have their own vision of what their space should look like, Monohon suggests perhaps many are missing out on an opportunity to take part in something bigger. Art helps coffee shops, he says, "and coffee shops help art."

"It's a nice balance that we are missing," Monohon finishes.

But it's not all on the coffee shops. The success of a potential arts scene and coffee shop partnership also rests in the hands of artists according to Hickey.

"Absolutely," Hickey says when asked if artists should approach coffee shops on their own in hopes of fostering a scene, "so that they become entwined with it."

"In this town, absolutely the artists will have to work just as hard as the coffee shops," he

Now is Tacoma's opportunity to stop yearning and start attaining. Artists need to reach out to coffee shops and coffee shops need to reach out to artists.

"There are a huge number of artist that want to be seen and want to be heard," says Monohon.

The LION is an experimental arts journalism project run by youth from all around Pierce County in partnership with FAB-5. The aim is to provide youth with an outlet to explore and share about art related topics and issues within their community. The LION will be contributing to the Weekly Volcano throughout the month of August.