Mo’Joe Coffeehouse on Michigan Street displays works of art for sale by local self-taught artists with advance permission from the shop’s owner. Currently, Angelina Fielding’s art is featured along with her bio and artist statement. According to the barista, “the art adds to the atmosphere” but doesn’t necessarily sell. My Starbucks on Massachusetts Avenue is in the process of establishing a program for local artists. In the meantime, the store encourages partners (employees) to display their work, along with other individuals connected to the store’s management. Nathan Wohlt and Jenny Elikins are a few of the artists with work on view. “A lot of artists work in coffeeshops so it’s a good place to sell your work,” said the barista. But where did the connection between art and coffeehouses originate?
Coffeehouses inspired the origin of countless noteworthy institutions and ideas. In the late 1700s, the auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s began in rooms attached to coffeehouses where sales of art took place. Coffeehouses aided in the business of buying and selling art and were essential to the success of an artist who could promote their work at little or no cost. It makes perfect sense that today’s coffeehouses continue to sell art from their walls.
A bit more history — coffeehouses originated in Middle Eastern countries in the 1400s as places where men gathered to drink Arabic coffee or tea and listen to music, read and play games. Discussions of war and politics also became common. In the 1600s, coffee arrived in Europe and coffeehouses quickly gained popularity. Venice, Oxford, London, Paris and Boston all boasted the first coffeehouses in their regions. They were places of “great social levell[ing], open to all men and indifferent to social status, and as a result associated with equality and republicanism,” according to a Wikipedia article. Business could be conducted and new ideas could spread unobserved by government. It is interesting to know that women were not allowed in coffeehouses in Europe, yet were in Germany.
The coffeehouse was an alternative to the “pub” and precursor to the more elite “club”. In the United States, coffeehouses first popped up in immigrant communities and attracted the free thinking Beat generation, the youth counterculture, solo musicians and today, wireless internet seekers. Coffee anyone?