Art, coffee and community

by Brian Crean

I don’t drink coffee, but I love coffeehouses. When I lived Atlanta back in the ’90s, I used to hang out at a place called Caf’ Diem. It was a cool spot on North Highland Avenue near Little Five Points. Essentially a haven for the creative intellectual set, the caf’ became my home away from home. I spent a lot of time there… reading, meeting up with friends, listening to music, checking out women and gazing at the artwork on the walls. I even hung my first lousy student paintings there.

But then I moved away, first to Athens and then to Greensboro for graduate school. Athens had a place called Blue Sky Coffeehouse that was pretty cool, but Greensboro didn’t seem to have a good place to hang out… until the Green Bean finally came along on South Elm Street in 2002.

I think every town needs at least one coffeehouse that is dedicated to the arts, a caf’ for the eccentrics, a meeting place for artists, writers and musicians. Such places are where communities take shape, and they attract a lot of the people who make a town more colorful.

During last month’s First Friday, I drove over to Winston-Salem and spent the evening on Trade Street. I strolled through the Arts District, browsed through all the galleries, said hello to a few folks and eventually searched out the local coffeehouse. Located at 533 N. Trade St., Chelsee’s Coffeeshop seems to have a little of everything: coffee, tea, beer, wine, smoothies, gifts and art.

To the right, when you walk in the door, there are georgeous quilts by Lisa Routh Alley covering the walls, and to the left are a half-dozen tables with original art hanging above them.

Beginning this September, Lee Mecum will be in charge of organizing the exhibitions in Chelsee’s. Currently representing eight artists, Mecum is the definition of a community builder. Pairing gifted artists with supportive patrons, she started her business in 2008 and it has slowly been gaining momentum. Works by Jason Blevins, Wendy Barber, Maclain Bryant, Ira DeKoven, Kent Dunn, Cheryl Ann Lipstreu and Ralph Calhoun can all be found on Mecum’s website: Each artist will also be featured on the walls of Chelsee’s in the near future.

During this month’s Art Hop, Mecum will hang a series of multi-media collages by Ralph Calhoun. Originally from Albany, Ga., the artist holds a degree in biology from Emory University, a BFA in commercial art from Virginia

Commonwealth University and a MA in’teaching from UNCG. In October, the walls of Chelsee’s will be’covered by the work of Ira DeKoven, and after that Mecum will treat us to more work by the many artists she brushes shoulders with in the Triad.

Before we parted, she said something that seemed to really sum up her passion and purpose, and I couldn’t resist writing it down.

“I’d love to see the art at Chelsee’s become more than simply an attractive backdrop. I want to hang work that really adds something special to the atmosphere,” she said.

And I think I responded to her by saying something like, “A lot of artists need help getting their work out there, so what you’re doing is a really good thing.” And then I finished the bottle of Nehi Orange Soda I had been drinking while we talked.

wanna go?

First Friday Art Hops happen the first Friday of each month in Greensboro along Elm Street and in Winston- Salem emanating from the corner of 6th and Trade streets.