Our story

Cafe Art artists at Oliver's Village Cafe (L-R: Tagzee, Zin, ROL, Caroline, James, Gearaldine, Paul, Mark and Emma).

Cafe Art artists at Oliver's Village Cafe (L-R: Tagzee, Zin, ROL, Caroline, James, Gearaldine, Paul, Mark and Emma).

Cafe Art began in London in early 2012 with one local cafe and one art group run by a homelessness sector organisation. The opportunity was spotted by Michael, a volunteer with a St Mungo’s art group near King’s Cross, London. He could see lots of amazing art being created every week. However there was not enough wall space in the charity to hang it - much of the art was put away and not hung on the walls. An idea was born while in a local cafe. It didn’t have any art on the walls.

In less than three months, Cafe Art had hundreds of beautiful art drawn by artists using services from almost all of London's homelessness organisations exhibited in over 15 cafes across the city, with our first pop-up exhibition held at Christie's (the world's top art auction house) over the summer. The rest they say is history ...

Cafe Art is run by Paul Ryan and Michael Wong. Café Art registered as a Community Interest Company (CIC) in November 2013, with all profits committed to building up the social enterprise. CICs were established in 2005 specifically for social enterprises where the profits will be reinvested in the business.

As well as connecting the artwork of artists affected by homelessness with local cafes, Café Art has exhibited in several organisations in London since it was established, including Allen & OveryChristie’sCitigroupThe GuardianIkea and Southwark Cathedral.  Since November 2013 we have also been running a special international exchange of homeless artwork between major cities around the world. We add a new city to the mix each year - a simple message that homelessness is a worldwide problem, but done in a positive and inspiring way through art drawn of the city landscapes by the artists.

Every year around World Homeless Day (10th Oct), we provide free market stalls (through the generosity of Spitalfields Market E1) to the artists as work experience for a week. We also offer a unique solution to help businesses and Corporations meet their corporate social responsibility aims through our special art rental scheme.

What is unique about Cafe Art is that we try our very best to connect the buyer of a piece of art with the artist over a cup of coffee in the cafe where the art is hung. This is a great way for two complete strangers whose life paths are so different to meet to share their love of art and their stories. We aim to do this through all the 5 programmes that we offer.

Hence, there is a much deeper meaning behind Cafe Art. Not just celebrating the art and the hidden talent, but the human connection.

We are very grateful to the support from The Royal Photographic Society, especially the Director-General Dr Michael Pritchard who said: ‘The Society is pleased to lend its support to Cafe Art which has had such a positive impact in supporting and working with homeless people. It is well known that art and photography can help raise an individual’s confidence and sense of worth which can be as important as more tangible benefits. This competition will contribute to that as well as raising wider awareness of the problem of homelessness.'

  Paul Ryan - Director

Paul Ryan went to Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand to gain BA in political science following a year living in Palembang, Indonesia as an AFS exchange student. After gaining journalism qualifications from Massey University in Wellington he worked for the New Zealand Employment Service before heading to London. He was editor of Montessori International magazine in London from 1998 to 2004 before directing Hope in Shadows, a photography-based project and calendar, with non-profit legal advocacy organisation Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, Canada from 2005 to 2012.

Working with Michael Wong and his established network of artists and art groups, Paul published the first Cafe Art calendar which featured paintings in November 2012. This pilot calendar was followed by a successful launch of the MyLondon project in 2013. Paul studied at the School for Social Entrepreneurs on the Fellowship programme with the goal of establishing Café Art as a successful social enterprise, graduating in January 2014.

  Michael - Director

Michael is a Chinese Malaysian who has lived in the UK for many years. He founded Cafe Art while he was (and still is) a volunteer at a small hostel run by St Mungo's Broadway, near King's Cross, London. His vision of Cafe Art from the start has always been about connecting 'strangers' together by creating opportunities for people to learn, value and accept each other's strengths & weaknesses. He says that this dialogue, whether it's through a face-to-face meet or a shared story, enables greater social interaction and understanding in today's communities.

He is a straight-talker and his passion behind what he believes in has led to the many corporate, business and homelessness art groups that were established within the first six months of Cafe Art, many of which still support the organisation up to this day.
He gained his PhD from King's College, London. He has diverse business and management skills ranging from running his own restaurant to a successful pharmaceutical communications company. His passion and strategic vision continues to steer Cafe Art making it a unique social enterprise that thinks out of the box and innovative in its approach to helping those affected by homelessness. He hopes to prove that 'self-belief' is a much more powerful tool than 'self-pity' when faced with obstacles and challenges in one's life journey.


Café Art could not be a success without many volunteers and organisations, including the many independent cafes and homeless sector organisations’ art groups. A special thank you to art therapist Simon Richardson for his support and for co-ordinating the art pods for the Spitalfields exhibition, Jennifer Burham of Homeless Diamonds, Jimmy Connelly of Suitcase Media CIC and Neil Cordell from The Royal Photographic Society.
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