About us

Cafe Art frames art by people affected by homelessness and hangs it in cafes. This is from the retrospective exhibition of Tagzee in Outpost, January 2016.

Cafe Art frames art by people affected by homelessness and hangs it in cafes. This is from the retrospective exhibition of Tagzee in Outpost, January 2016.

We frame the artwork of people attending art sessions run by London homeless sector organisations. We find independent London cafes to hang and sell it in, with 80 percent of the proceeds going to the artists and 20% back into the project.

Café Art’s mission is to connect people affected by homelessness with the wider community through their art.

Our vision is that formerly homeless people will be empowered through their art, actively involved in a social enterprise that helps other people in similar situations by hanging their art in cafés, exhibitions and by participating in the annual photography project and calendar.

Paul Ryan and Michael Wong, who have both worked with people affected by homelessness before, are Café Art’s directors. Paul worked for seven years with Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, Canada developing Hope in Shadows.

Michael volunteered for several years with an art group run by St Mungo’s, near King’s Cross, London with people affected by homelessness. Michael set up Café Art in early 2012, framing and hanging art by homeless people in independent London cafes and holding pop-up exhibitions.

Paul joined Michael in September 2012 and at the end of 2013 they registered Café Art as an asset-locked social enterprise registering as Café Art (UK) Community Interest Company. Café Art has free storage for art and exhibition materials in the basement of the Qbic Hotel, 42 Adler Street, London E1 1EE. There is a permanent exhibition of MyLondon photographs on display in the hotel.

Social enterprise Café Art is a social enterprise with a goal of become self-sustaining. The MyLondon project needs to be financially viable as well as providing a photography project that empowers people affected by homelessness. It is with this goal in mind that the project is run.

As a small social enterprise with no large organization/s funding us from the start we are very appreciative of the help we have been given from other organisations and people. By having independent, third-party support/ endorsement of the project from professional organizations like Homeless Link and The Royal Photographic Society (since 1853 the oldest photography society in the world), as well as a growing prestigious group of judges from Amateur Photographer (the world’s number one selling weekly photographic magazine), FujiFilm UK to Christie’s (one of the world’s top art auction houses) we have managed to make a difference.

The project also connects with many of London’s homelessness organizations and we could not have begun without their support. All of this support helps build confidence & self-esteem for all the participants, and it helps to enhance quality & credibility for the calendar buyers and our supporters.

The Cafe Art ONE calendar was a celebration of artists and homelessness organisations coming together as ONE. This was the 2013 calendar cover.

The Cafe Art ONE calendar was a celebration of artists and homelessness organisations coming together as ONE. This was the 2013 calendar cover.

The Cafe Art calendars: from ONE to MyLondon The first calendar we produced was of paintings and drawings from the artists from many homelessness charities.

We printed 1,000 copies and sold it to raise money for the art groups and artists that supported the first year of Cafe Art. We called the 2013 calendar ONE as it represented the coming together of all types of people and organisations to confront the issue of homelessness as ONE. We gave 100% of the earnings (£5,000) back to the artists and art groups they came from.

In 2013 we partnered with The Royal Photographic Society to do a photography contest using 100 single-use cameras. Paul Ryan had managed and developed the Hope in Shadows contest, exhibition and calendar for Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver for seven years and this project is inspired by Hope in Shadows. The first Cafe Art photography calendar was called Home is Where the Art Is and we printed 3,000 copies. We sold many of them in markets with the participants earning 50% of the sale price. We also gave £5000 of the earnings to the art groups.

The 2014 calendar was called Home Is Where the Art Is but the contest theme was "My London"

The 2014 calendar was called Home Is Where the Art Is but the contest theme was “My London”

MyLondon was the theme in 2014, but in 2015 it became the name of the project. The 2015 MyLondon calendar sold 4,500 copies.

In 2015 we printed 6,000 copies of the 2016 Cafe Art MyLondon calendar and again we sold out. Our Kickstarter campaign resulted in many people contacting us from cities around the world and we are helping them to do their own projects. Since we started the project, participants have earned thousands of pounds for themselves and gained skills & confidence. The 2016 camera handout is on Friday 1 July as St Paul’s Cathedral.

Why Café Art is unique

Café Art is different from the many other amazing initiatives out there for people affected by homelessness. We aspire to represent a positive approach to a topic that can often be negative. We bring together artists from almost all of London’s homelessness organisations to showcase their work for the public to enjoy, as well as encouraging and creating an opportunity for them to earn a meaningful income. More importantly, they also raise funds for their own art groups as a way to show their appreciation for the on-going support they get from the various charities.  

And all of this is done through their own talent, creativity and hard work! Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 17.42.19Café Art is a social enterprise with charitable objectives, with all profits going back into building the business.

80% to the artists, 20% to the project

We celebrate the talent of the participating artists by framing and hanging their art in cafes for the public to enjoy and appreciate. From 2012-2016, when the public bought the art, the 100% of the sale price went to the artist.

In March 2016 we formed an artists’ exhibition committee and they decided to take 20% of the sale price to pay for new frames and mounts, thereby helping to make the project self-sustaining.

All buyers are given the opportunity to meet the artist over a hot drink should they wish to. This is a synergy we hope will produce an instant, lasting and direct gratification for all concerned, fostering understanding.

Painting, drawing, sketching, photography, sculpturing and craft making are some of the many activities that homeless people or those who are socially excluded are encouraged to do to help boost self-esteem, confidence and self-worth.

It is also therapeutic in that it acts as an outlet to channel their feelings, frustrations, anger, but also hope and optimism for the future. Café Art’s concept is simple: we help introduce the creativity and talent of these individuals to a wider audience. In this way, they know that they are not alone in their personal path to recovery as the public can admire and celebrate their achievements together with them. It should also help encourage them to engage in other activities through a sense of personal satisfaction and self-accomplishment. The more active they are in developing new skills, the quicker they will be on their journey to independence, and integrate back into the community.

As mentioned above, Café Art frames art and hangs it in cafes, facilitating one of London’s largest free public ‘art gallery’. Cafes have wall spaces that are hardly used, providing an opportunity to decorate them with these amazing and wonderful artworks. 365 days a year! These provide an outlet for the many great artworks created by people affected by homelessness. The cafes offer a comfortable environment where they can be appreciated. One of our goals is to help raise further public awareness & empathy towards people affected by homelessness.

Photography mentoring programme with The Royal Photographic Society

In November 2015 we started a photography mentoring programme with Neil Cordell from The Royal Photographic Society. All past top 20 winners from the last three contests were invited to join the group which learns how to use DSLR and other digital cameras. The group meets in the Qbic Hotel (our base) on Friday and Saturday every two weeks.

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