May 28, 2015

Mestizo Coffeehouse: Art and Community in your Cup

Mestizo at night during the holidays. Photo by Mason Smith. A bowl of soul. Photo courtesy of Mestizo Coffeehouse. An exhibition at Mestizo inspired by the migration of the Monarch Butterfly. Art by Sonia Pentz and Nadia Rea Morales. Photo by Charlotte Fife-Jepperson.
Mestizo at night during the holidays. Photo by Mason Smith.|A bowl of soul. Photo courtesy of Mestizo Coffeehouse.|An exhibition at Mestizo inspired by the migration of the Monarch Butterfly. Art by Sonia Pentz and Nadia Rea Morales. Photo by Charlotte Fife-Jepperson.|| Mestizo at night during the holidays. Photo by Mason Smith.|A bowl of soul. Photo courtesy of Mestizo Coffeehouse.|An exhibition at Mestizo inspired by the migration of the Monarch Butterfly. Art by Sonia Pentz and Nadia Rea Morales. Photo by Charlotte Fife-Jepperson.|| ||||
By The West View

In 2001, two Utah artists set out to solve an age-old problem: how to engage society in art. They thought of combining an art gallery with a coffeehouse, because it rang with the promise of giving the community-at-large more opportunities to see art. These problem-solvers were screenwriter and director Terry Hurst and Ruby Chacón, a nationally recognized Chicana visual artist.

Hurst and Chacón also set about to engage art in society. Back in 2003 they established Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts, or MICA ("mee-ka"), a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen and build community through arts, civic engagement, and dialogue.

The coffeehouse's history is complex; it's the story of dedicated volunteers struggling against formidable odds to keep the dream alive. The Mestizo Coffeehouse opened originally at a different location back in 2002, but that coffeehouse failed, leaving MICA without a home.

The coffeehouse reopened in 2009 in Citifront (631 W. North Temple), becoming the west side's only coffeehouse. Since then, the gallery space has been MICA's home. It's a gallery dedicated specifically to artists who engage community in their work, are from underrepresented communities, or use art as a tool for social change.

As frequent customer Mara Haight put it, "What makes Mestizo my favorite place in the valley to get a cup is the mission and passion behind what they do. They are bringing the arts and culture of the west side into an organized space where all can enjoy."

The Mestizo Coffeehouse is more than a place where you can drink from a steaming mug while perusing a room full of pictures.

The gallery has presented visual art, writing, and performance poetry from schools, local artists, and professional artists of national renown.

Non-commercial community groups can hold meetings or events in the coffeehouse gallery room free of charge. The space has been used by a variety of people and organizations, such as Masons, atheists, LDS singles wards, political campaigns, festival meetings, DREAMers, Occupy Utah, 365 (an African poetry group), the YWCA's Violence Against Women project, and Mestizo Arts and Activism (a partnership between MICA and the U of U, facilitated by University Neighborhood Partners.)

David Galvan, volunteer manager of the Mestizo Coffeehouse, said, "I don't think there's a nonprofit on the west side that hasn't held an event or a meeting in this space."
Mestizo's current location was procured with the help of several investors, including Bridge Investment Group and NeighborWorks Salt Lake, a local nonprofit that strengthens neighborhoods through housing, leadership, youth employment and economic development programs.

Additionally, Dan Stanger with Bridge Investment Group arranged and personally signed for a $20,000 construction mitigation loan from the city on behalf of the coffeehouse, and Bernardo Flores Sahagun donated his work as the project's architect.

According to Galvan, Mestizo Coffeehouse enjoyed one month of financial success before the recession and the North Temple TRAX line construction caused the coffeehouse to lose 40 percent of its business.

Meanwhile, Hurst dedicated himself to a "Five Million-Dollar Ride" fundraising campaign, in which he independently biked cross-country, raising money for MICA and the coffeehouse from September 2009 to February 2010. He brought in several thousand dollars, but it wasn't enough. The coffeehouse during that time was run by a handful of 17-19 year-old employees, and barely surviving.

That's when Galvan stepped in as volunteer manager. Eventually, the construction on North Temple drew to a close. Here's the end of the story in Galvan's words:
"In April of 2013, the bridge was back, and the TRAX line was in. After that, it took 6-8 months to get the traffic back to what we were at with our pre-construction numbers. Actually, we've exceeded those numbers. We're doing very well."

Next time you're thirsty for art, lattes, or social change, head for Mestizo Coffeehouse.

Editor's Note: West View Media recently moved into Citifront, just across the hall from Mestizo.

{jb_blackbox}Mestizo Coffeehouse's Signature Offerings:
-
Bowl of Soul, with a touch of spicy cayenne
- Mexican Mocha, the Abuelita-flavored mocha
- Yerba Mate, served in a traditional gourd
- Super Porridge, with 9 super food ingredients
- House-baked pastries, such as espresso and chili-laced brownies{/jb_blackbox}