The art on your favorite cafe’s walls was not placed there by accident.
Though it can be easy to overlook the artwork hung above the cream and sugar station while rushing to work or around the bustling tables of a lively restaurant, the pieces curated in these spaces are there to create more than just a cool vibe or a photo-worthy aesthetic.
“Grand Rapids is pretty special because we have this very strong art community and culture, and it is connected with our very strong restaurant and food culture,” said Marie Couretas, owner of Kardia Design, an art curation and interior design team. “Those two different communities balance and mix well.”
Couretas curates the artwork for Linear, a riverfront restaurant on Monroe Avenue. Gallery-style exhibitions in food and drink spaces like Linear are becoming increasingly popular in Grand Rapids, and the push to pull art out of galleries and into daily spaces is a multifaceted goal. For Couretas, the intentions behind the work she selects to be shown are about more than merely aesthetic — it’s about supporting artists and uplifting people through artistic vitality.
“In any kind of environment or situation, art has a subtle but very strong presence,” Couretas said. “Just by looking at the artwork really quickly, you absorb some of that creative energy, and I think that’s really good for everyone.”
When curating art for a restaurant, Couretas assesses the space’s environment and how people function within it on a day-to-day basis. She then hand-selects pieces that complement the restaurant’s needs, all the while fostering a functional relationship between the art and the viewer.
“For people who are just out and about, it’s not their first intention to go and look at artwork,” Couretas said. “Having it there is a surprise gift, and in some situations it might really speak to somebody. I think it's really beautiful to have that opportunity.”
Kaitlynn Broadbooks, the face behind the rotating exhibitions in Rowster Coffee, takes a different approach to gathering artwork for the space. However, her mission to frequently expose Grand Rapids residents to art and support local creators greatly overlaps with Couretas’ intentions.
“For the most part, we tell an artist to come up with a cohesive idea to showcase in (Rowster), and they come back with really cool collections that always suit the space well,” Broadbooks said.
Rowster began curating local artists after a student at Kendall College of Art and Design brought up the idea a few years ago.
“We have one of the best art schools in town,” Broadbooks said. “Any way that cafes can be pulling focus and drawing attention back to the artist is super important.”
The art Couretas curates for Linear and the artists Broadbooks chooses for Rowster go beyond a matter of beauty. It’s all designed to build relationships between the viewer and the restaurant or cafe experience, as well as between local businesses and regional artists.
“I think for businesses like breweries and restaurants, they get so much foot traffic, it’s a really awesome opportunity for artists to be seen in that environment. It just makes sense,” Couretas said.
“Coffee shops aren’t galleries, but I do feel like a lot of the coffee shops locally are doing a really good job at trying to curate like a gallery as best they can,” she said. “It's something we won't ever stop doing.”