Galleria Cafés: A Mutual Relationship between Arts, Services

Cafes that exhibit artwork have long been a staple in Europe and the Americas. The trend is also starting to arise in Addis Ababa. EBR’s Meseret Mamo profiles a few cafes in Addis Ababa that are starting to exhibit the artwork of up-and-coming artists.

Anyone who thinks cafés are good only for the service of hot drinks and pastries may be surprised to learn that the famous author Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, praised Paris’s cafés for their association with art and artists. 

Many cafés in Europe are accustomed to providing space for artists to display their artwork. Customers often have a chance to meet the artist and can even purchase the artwork if they choose. 

Paulo Coelho, in one of his works, The Zahir, said a person can’t say I visited Paris without visiting its cafés. In Addis Ababa, holding an art exhibition in hotels and restaurants is also becoming quite common. Some also decorate their offices and business places as if they are art galleries.

But café’s are usually places for friends to chat over hot drinks; that is, until recently, where there are some signs of sharing European big cities’ experience of showing art exhibitions. 

To.Mo.Ca Coffee is a well-known café in Addis Ababa. The company’s name is abbreviated from the Italian Torrefazione Moderna Café, which translates to modern coffee roasting.  The company claims to be the first coffee company established in 1953 by an Italian in Addis Ababa. The cafe is known for its grind packed coffee in its 5 branches it has opened recently. A year and a half ago one of its branches, around Sar bet, a neighbourhood populated by a large number of diplomats in Addis Ababa, opened a gallery, Galleria To.Mo.Ca.

The café has five rooms. Except one of these rooms which is used for hot drinks, the rest, including the corridor, are dedicated to art exhibition. There is a receptionist who facilitates the visit and offers a catalogue as well as addresses of  artists in case one wants a contact. A big table is available in every room of the exhibition in case visitors want to be served with hot drinks. 

Since its opening, the Galeria has been used by up-and-coming artists to show their works to the public. Tizita Berhanu is one of them. She has currently displayed 22 of her works at the gallery together with another artist, Selamawit Fisseha. 

Tizita told EBR that the gallery has helped her in promoting herself by preparing catalogue of her works in addition to providing a show place for free: “It is like sponsorship, artists submit their works with CD to the café and it is the gallery which chooses which one will be presented” 

Galaria To.Mo.Ca, headquartered on Churchill Avenue in the busy Piassa Business District, provides its gallery for art exhibition free of charge. Any cost associated with display, removing, and transportation of the paintings as well as printing of promotional items for the exhibition is covered by the café. It doesn’t even take commission from the sale of artworks that visitors buy at the café.  Wondossen Zewdu, a second-generation owner and manager of the café said that this is one way of exhibiting the business’s idea of corporate social responsibility. 

“There are no places for free in the town that artists could display their works; artists especially the upcoming ones are discouraged as a result,” he said. “That is why Galleria To.Mo.Ca is helping the youth with what lacks in the city- a venue to display their works to the general public. Besides, we are proud to offer the community art works along with the best coffee in town,” he added.

At the café, it used to be that one art exhibition stays for three months but now the duration has been shortened to two months to accommodate the increasing number of artists who request to display their work. 

Kabu Coffee and ‘Oh Canada Café, Bar and Restaurant, on Cameroon and Mikeyleland Streets in Addis respectively, seem to be following in the footsteps of To.Mo.Ca. Even if they have the same motive of encouraging the upcoming artists, they don’t cover expenses of the exhibition, as is the case with To.Mo.Ca. “We were able to find a sponsorship for the first art exhibition a year ago, but finding a sponsorship [these days] is very hard; that is why we quit it” Jebesa Mamo, manager of Kabu Coffee told EBR. “Artists are therefore required to cover all expenses of their exhibition; we only offer free space for display.” He said.

Kabu Café has two big rooms and different paintings from the exhibition are hanged on a curtain that covers the two opposite walls adjacent the front. Through small openings of the curtains, which will be removed after the exhibition, one can peep out painting on the walls. Wide colourful paint on a wall behind the pastry display also attracts attention in the next room. In this room too, other paints which belong to the cafe are hanged on wall as if they are part of the exhibition. “It is like a gallery café, we draw no benefit out of it,” said Jebesa,. “Maybe in the future, when famous artists participate, the number of customers may exceed the usual; we might get benefit then.” 

Sure, increased number of customers who visit the art exhibitions in the cafés could benefit the cafés in the long run. But most cafés in Addis Ababa might not find this reason appealing to start displaying art exhibition because most of the time they are crowded that the waiters want customers to leave the place immediately for the next customers after finishing the drinks served. But Lily Kassahun, owner and manager of Oh Canada Cafe and Restaurant, a returnee from Canada after 20 years of stay in the North American state, said that it is a benefit in time of art exhibition that there are more customers coming to the cafe. 

Since its opening a year ago, five exhibitions have been held at Oh Canada for free. The available space for the display of art works is outside the main café on the veranda and exhibitions last only for a day long. “I will lose nothing, in fact visitors might buy services from the café,” said Lily. And the reason why exhibitions cannot last more than a day is for the Veranda is not safe for the art works; there is also a risk that the weather might ruin them, said Lily. 

Serenade Art and Food, in Addis Ababa, also offers a similar service. For the last several years, the centre has been serving European cuisines. According to the manager of the restaurant, free art exhibitions are held quarterly. 

Relocated now inside the premises of Alliance Ethio- Francaise around Habtegiorgis Bridge in Addis Ababa, Serenade serves contemporary Ethiopian and international art with Mediterranean cuisine. The centre presents its clientele dinner and Sunday brunch along with private events and catering. The Art House presents about five shows a year of some of Addis Ababa’s finest contemporary artists along with international artists.

Encouraging up–and-coming artists by providing free space for display is helpful in the development of arts in the country. Whether it is a trend that will stay or nor, however, has yet to be seen.


2nd Year . August 2014 . No.17


More in this category: « Celebrities for charities

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