Wednesday 5 December 2012

Why a café and not a pub?

The difference between the two
Perhaps it’s just a matter of tradition. Licensing hours used to be much more restricted. You used to go to the pub to drink alcohol. Bars used to be full of cigarette smoke. All of that has changed now. Pubs and other licensed premises now open for longer, serve a lot more than just alcohol and have a smoking ban. Many cafés are licensed. Yet we go to the pub for recreation, to relax at the end of a busy day and maybe to share comments after seeing a play or a film. At the café we are more awake and perhaps seeking to become even more alert.   
Is it just the caffeine?
Coffee used to be a wicked pleasure.  Just think of Bach’s coffee cantataThe Viennese coffee houses were a little decadent. Caffeine of course wakes us up and makes us strong.  We feel clear. There is more, though. We are also close to our audience in the café. Often there is more light than in a pub. Young people are more welcome. Not everyone drinks coffee anyway.  So no, it isn’t just about the caffeine.
There is something about cake
Cake has featured highly in my career. I like baking anyway. There is something very rewarding about mixing the ingredients and the wonderful smell in the kitchen as the cake bakes. It’s extremely satisfying serving guests. When I used to be a language teacher my boss always provided chocolate cake for our meetings. My team of creative practitioners always appreciate a slice of something delicious as we problem-shoot. In fact, they’ll do almost anything for cake. Even a choir I belong to offers gigs entitled Acappella and Cake. And in that former existence as a language teacher I used to organise massive “Kaffee und Kuchen”   for my learners of German. The Dutch have the Koffiekonzert  – a musical concert by up and coming musicians for the price of and including a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.        
Rent a table     
This is perhaps a crucial element. Coffee cups are big now – even the small ones. So, spending a long time in a café is permitted. In fact, it is almost expected. It’s only polite of course for visitors to make sure they have a beverage in front of them or at least that they don’t sit behind an empty cup for more than half an hour. Even so, unless the place gets very crowded you’ll not be asked to move on. Chances are you might buy something else if you stay long enough.
Recently I arrived early for a meeting. There was a café over the road from the venue. I ordered a coffee and read The Times on my iPhone whilst I drank. There was a group in the corner discussing lessons for children with learning difficulties. So, two good creative café activities going on. The teachers were obviously off-site. Did the coffee and the café atmosphere help them to get better answers? I expect so, because I saw the news in The Times as part of a bigger picture and not just as something irritating.                     

Monday 12 November 2012

How to recognise and how to create a Creative Café

Recognising it
A creative café is above all else a café. It isn’t a pub and it isn’t an arts centre, though it may be licensed and it may be within an arts centre. It must sell good coffee and other good things that go with a good coffee. If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, the café is a Creative Café.
Are people reading literature there?
Is literature available in the café?
Is there a sense that you can sit here for as long as you like over you cup of coffee?
Are people creating new worlds as they sit and chat?
Does the café organise book readings, book launches and creative workshops?
Is there artwork on the walls that is either for sale or celebrates local artists?
Does book-crossing happen?
Does the café promote arts events? 
Is there ever any live music?
How to turn your local café into a creative café
Sit in there to read or write.
Drop off a few of your books – whether to give away for free or to be sold by the café, sale or return, at a small profit.
Hold your arts meetings there.
Negotiate with the owner that you’d like to use this as a work space though promise you will make a certain number of purchases in a certain amount of time.
If the venue is suitable, organise a book event there.
Talk to the owner/ manager about using the walls as gallery space. 
Just book-cross.
Take in leaflets about your own events and others you find interesting.
Ask if the cafe has an entertainments license and hook up with musicians you know to perform there.
See also posts on this blog about Writers in Residence, speed-dating and Literary Salons.
Write a review for this site
Where the café is and what does it serve?
Which creative café activities does it offer?
What is its most striking feature? 
Describe your event there.
Can you supply a photo?  
Send your review here.            

Thursday 1 November 2012

Expansion of the Creative Café Project

We’re forcing a period of growth right now – well someone has to. We have a few plans afoot.
New web site 
We’ve taken the old Creative Café Project web site down and we’re going to be putting up a brand new one soon. We hope to make this searchable. In the meantime we’re using this blog as the main form of communication.  We’re aiming for:
Getting more cafés involved
We want to find more and more cafés worldwide who will take part in the project. This will mean more administration but we will allow cafés to self-register or other people to register for them. We’d still keep some control in vetting registrations before they went live.
Increasing income
We want to do this without charging cafés, creative practitioners and the public a fee except for when we provide a service other than what is just part of the Creative Café Project’s ethos.  For example, we might charge a fee for a speed-dating session. This would not aim to make a profit but if it did, that could be donated to the Project. It would normally just cover costs.
We want to raise further income:
·         Through donations
·         Sales of the Best of CafeLit
·         Fund raising events
·         Ethical, appropriate advertising
Employ more people
We want to get enough people working on the Project so that it works properly. These people shouldn’t be working for no return. The return could be in kind but we’d like to put this on a proper business footing. Except: we’re not really a business. We don’t want to make a profit. We’re in effect a social enterprise. Any surplus to expenditure would go into creating something new within the Café.
This is about building up and contrasts with the dumbing down that is going on presently.             
Encouraging involvement of cafés
Many café owners / managers and creative practitioners are doing what they do well and that maintains the spirit of the Creative Café project. We’d like to set up a system where they can share ideas more with each other and mentor those newer to the project.    
And coming soon
Free competition to find the first Creative Café Project artist in residence. Watch this space.         

Saturday 27 October 2012

Arranging a speed-dating Creative Café

This isn’t about finding the perfect partner but about raising the profile of creative practitioners and allowing those interested in the arts to get a closer look at content providers. It also allows the creative practitioners to get to know each other better.
Financing / marketing
A café owner or a creative practitioner should do this. It’s probably ideal if they work together. A set price could be charged. This should finance café’s time and pay for drinks and a slice of cake for all involved. My favourite local café would charge a modest £7.00. Up to £15.00 might seem reasonable according to venue and the value-added those involved might consider they’re getting.   
Café Set up
Tables should be set up so that two people can sit opposite each other.
The “speed-dating” should last a maximum of two hours, with a short introduction at the beginning. The evening / afternoon will need to be brought to a close and it might be good to have a half hour or so at the end to allow people to chat more informally. At this point, it would be fair to revert to normal café conditions, with participants paying for extra drinks.
There shouldn’t probably be more than twenty-four or less than twelve participants. Each session should be between five and ten minutes, depending on the number of people involved. It’s probably good to aim for half and half – say twelve practitioners and twelve audience members, though any combination can introduce interesting dynamics.  
Half the group moves round. The other half sit at a table. Make sure that half of each group are moving so that all of the following combinations are possible:
Creative practitioner / audience
Creative practitioner / creative practitioner
Audience / audience
Half of the time the “static” person should talk and the other half the “visitor”. See below for talking point suggestions.
Creative practitioner / audience
This probably isn’t the place to try and sell a CD, a painting or a book but the creative practitioner should certainly be prepared to talk about their work and how else they work – residencies, talks, events they have coming up. They should certainly have literature about their work and these events to give out.
The audience member could sneak in a book to be signed but might also quiz the creative practitioner about aspects of her work that she finds interesting. She might even find out whether she could involve this particular person in some event she is organising – perhaps a school event or supporting a favourite charity.  The audience member can give the practitioner some feedback if she knows her work. Or maybe, if she likes the practitioner’s work, she could commission something.  Some of these things may actually occur after the event.
Audience / audience
The two audience members could discuss why they’ve come here. They could point out to each other anything they have already found out that might help the person to whom they’re talking. They may even be able to support each other in their endeavours.
Creative practitioner / creative practitioner
Can they support each other?  Can they work together? Can they share some knowledge? Even if there appears to be no common ground they should exchange contact details. Something may occur later.    
Fancy arranging a speed-dating Creative Café session?
Go for it! And let us know how you get on.         

Saturday 13 October 2012

What makes a Creative Café creative?

Just a few reminders here.  The general principle is that the café offers creative practitioners the opportunity to engage with each other and their audiences and offers the general public the opportunity to interact closely with creative practitioners.  
Customers deposit books they have read and take away ones that others have deposited.
Newspapers and arts publications
The café keeps a supply of these for customers to read.
Book launches and readings
These are held regularly at the venue.
Reading and writing groups
These are also held regularly at the venue.
Arts workshops
These might include creative writing workshops, costume-making, crafts, cooking, art – even life-drawing if you have the right sort of events room.
Talks and lectures
Why here and not a lecture room? The café provides a more relaxed atmosphere at either end of the event.
Writer in residence
A writer in residence can provide advice about writing, celebrate the café in writing, devise writing projects for café customers and subtly promote their own work.
 Café as gallery
The café displays artists’ work and sells the pictures, taking a small commission.
Live music
This could be a formal performance, background music or a group busking.
Just networking
This happens almost without any effort. The café becomes a space where creative practitioners choose to meet. The Creative Café Project supports the small guys but just look at what the big guys do too. Just go to the Media City UK Costa and rub shoulders with the BBC.