By Puloma Ghosh
Cambridge, MA – Of all the hipster cafés and trendy study spots across Cambridge, Voltage Coffee & Art stands out as a spot that can be relied on for a good brew and a good exhibit. Stepping out of the “coffee shop art” stigma, Voltage curates quality artwork by local artists with rotating six-week exhibits to showcase the emerging talent around Boston. The artwork is as fresh as their coffee, incorporated seamlessly into the comfortable hangout spaces around the café.
Founder Lucy R. Valena always noticed the connection between coffee shops and creative energy. A graduate of Hampshire College and a writer, she understood the inspiration a good cup of coffee or espresso could provide. She returned to Massachusetts and began Voltage, her own coffee and art project, in 2010, and curator Anna Schindelar soon came aboard as well.
“We always intended on having local artists,” Valena said. “The main thing we’re trying to do is create a bridge between café and gallery. You can’t go to a gallery everyday but you can go to a café everyday. We’re trying to bring the two worlds together. That’s the main goal: trying to make art an everyday experience.”
Looking around, one can see Valena’s efforts in action. Many students and professionals squint at their laptops right below massive paintings, their shoulders just shy of the canvas. Customers waiting in line are stopping to observe the artwork on the walls instead of shuffling with their eyes glued to their phones.
Exhibiting artist Bradford Rusick’s artwork appropriately references this obsession with media. His recently ended show, “Joyland,” had whimsical, colorful mixed media pieces referencing popular brands hidden within the imagery.
“It’s like an accumulation of information,” said Rusick. “I think a lot about technology. My own mind and the minds of a lot of people are affected by abundance, and instantaneous information. I like to think about how active minds are right now and how much we’re thinking about all the time and how much we’re observing.”
Rusick connected with Voltage through his work as a curator in a separate local art show with Schindelar. She curates Voltage’s shows with a real passion for Boston artists.
“My favorite part of being a curator is finding artists myself – through Open Studio weekends, local galleries, senior thesis shows at the art schools, and word of mouth, I chase talent all over this city,” Schindelar said. “The concept behind Voltage Coffee & Art was an art piece in and of itself — an installation of a place where people come to get buzzed on caffeine, look at artwork, and have conversations with each other fueled by both.”
Sipping a tasty latte by the floor-to-ceiling bookcase full of used books of all kinds, one can really feel part of the art. There’s a steady hum of conversation, and while some people casually point out the artwork, others become a part of it as they sink into their own worlds at their tables.
“What I think is amazing about it is that the art ends up really energizing the space,” said Velena, her eyes lighting up as she surveyed the space, the vibrant colors of Rusick’s artwork illuminated in the brightness of the summer day filtering in through the windows. “We are able to switch it out every six weeks and it keeps things moving, keeps things fresh. My major goal is to keep people awake — that’s our mission at Voltage.”
Voltage Coffee & Art truly succeeds in bringing art into the everyday experience in a fresh, lively way. It’s youthful and fun, but the artwork is nothing to dismiss—Valena and Schindelar truly spend the time to not only produce quality coffee, but also display quality art.
The current exhibit is Aaron Hadley Dana’s solo show, “Twenty Minutes or Less” featuring pen and ink portraits all drawn in 20 minutes or less, that are exhibiting through September 7, 2014; the show’s opening reception takes place on Friday, August 8 from 7-9 p.m.
(Voltage Coffee & Art is located at 295 Third Street in Kendall Square, Cambridge, Mass. and is open weekdays 7 a.m.-7 p.m., with the kitchen open until 5 p.m., and weekends 9 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, call (617) 714-3974.)