A sibling duo, Donna and Dustin Cormack-Thomson, come together to serve you coffee in an aesthetically-pleasing environment. Say hello to Ground Art Caffe.
Talk us through the creation of Ground Art Caffe. How were you involved in its creation?
My brother moved up to Cape Town in March last year. We did a Barista course at Truth Coffee Company, with the intention of getting a job as a barista at a coffee shop here. My parents then followed shortly after, and moved to Cape Town in June. They have always dreamed of opening up a restaurant/coffee shop.
A space opened up in De Waterkant, and they decided to go for it. With my brother’s skills, they decided to open up a shop focused on really good coffee, the best pastries and classic Italian Panini (a family favorite). But they wanted to add something a little different.
Ground Art Caffe’s market is:
I have a lot of friends that are artists and curators, and I suggested to my parents to possibly add that element to the shop. There are many shops and restaurants that exhibit and sell art, but often lack a focus on the art. Blending art into the decor and without the correct lighting. The gallery spaces in Cape Town are often quite tough to get into for young emerging artists without a reputation (although this sphere is growing immensely), and if they are exhibited it is often only a few artworks as part of a group show. So we came up with the idea of a Micro-Exhibition wall in the coffee shop, with lighting and vinyl naming the artists and their exhibition.
What we want to offer is a professional space, with a main focus on the art, to afford young, emerging artists an opportunity to exhibit their own solo show, or a collaboration (as we have with our current exhibition).Ground Art also offers to pay for framing, as often, young artists can’t afford framing, and so their pieces are exhibited unframed. Good framing and a focused exhibition space offer them the opportunity to tap into the often insular art market.
The coffee shop offers a lot of exposure, and most of our buyers have been customers that have popped into the shop. Often people don’t go into gallery spaces and so this exposure is great for young artists. I work as a freelance actress, and was lucky enough to have lots of work last year, so I wasn’t hands on involved in the creation of the shop itself, but assisted as a creative consultant, helped find the artists and assisted with curating and marketing.
What do you think your differentiates you within such a concentrated industry? How are you able to constantly implement said differentiators?
I think our differentiators are the micro-exhibition wall, with professional lighting and naming, in a space that has added exposure, with the specific intention of nurturing young emerging artists, framing the work, and exhibiting for a full month, primarily solo shows. I believe we can continue to implement this by keeping the art as a focus and highlight of the shop, with the professional attention it deserves and of course to continue to nurture talented young emerging artists. We also used an emerging designer to design the logo’s for Ground.
How often do you change the installments place in the exhibition space? What kind of artists do you look to curate within the space? How does an artist go about exhibiting their pieces?
We change the exhibition each month, and do the exhibition openings on First Thursdays, so first Thursday of each month. We look to work specifically with young emerging artists, with the intention of helping them kick-start their careers. Any artists who would like to exhibit can email/phone Ground Art Caffe, and send through some photos of their artworks, and look at the possibility of exhibiting. We have been overwhelmed with young artists contacting us to exhibit, which is amazing.
You’re part of South Africa’s millenial start-up revolution. How does it feel to assist small and start-up organizations in this way?
I think in our current economy, millennial’s starting out, need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, and think laterally to create success. Our work market is saturated, and combining and collaborating with other people, in different but possibly complimentary spheres is a great way forward. As an artist myself, in a very difficult and saturated industry, I’m so honored to be part of something gives other young artists an opportunity for success in an also very saturated and tough market.
I’m sure it hasn’t been all perfect-tempered lattes. Can you tell us about any heated moments you two have encountered since Ground Art’s inception?
Starting a family business is always challenging, and aside from Dustin’s skills as a barista, none of us had any experience in the restaurant or art industries, so the inception of ground was really a step by step learning experience for everyone. There were thousands of 5 hour long often unproductive meetings, arguments and disagreements. We really wanted to choose each element of the shop personally, so there was a family discussion about every spoon, mug, design, croissant- it was challenging. But in the end its really a personal space that we love and are so proud of, its brought us all together.
Situation: The year is 2018. You have placed a set of VR goggles on your ideal customer. What is your vision for Ground Art Caffe and does it align with what they see?
I imagine a customer sitting on one of the occasional chairs, coffee in hand, dreamily lost in the exhibition in front of them, the smell of fresh pastries permeating the shop, and ambient music in the background, the possibilty of being able to comfortably share a space with the artworks, imagine what they might feel like at home, or see new things in them as the light changes or the music or smells. We hope that we will become a place where creative’s meet and work, a home for young artists, and of course to maintain a quality standard of coffee and food. I have no idea if this what they see, but I hope it is, and if it isn’t, I hope its something positive and new, that I never thought about before.
Following that question, what small steps could you take right now, or are you taking, to make that future happen?
Having just started out, it’s all small steps at the moment. We are still building our brand, experimenting with our menu and figuring the art side out, step by step.
This feature fall in our “Do It Yourself” series. We’re trying to get young people to see different ways of handling their futures. What advice would you give to young people about starting their own projects and/or business?
My first piece of advice would be to try and work with and learn from people who are moving in your direction, networking is key in building a business, and sometimes working without pay to gain experience and meet the right people is well worth the sacrifice. On that same note, know your worth, to start-up you really have to be confident and believe in what you are doing, and be prepared for many failures and a lot of skepticism from other people, stick to your guns, and take your failures as learning opportunities. Creating a brand, and marketing your brand is vital, if you know nothing about marketing, find someone to collaborate with that does, or take the time to learn the trade. Branding can also be a means to find funding, and so an understanding of this is so important.
MOST IMPORTANTLY- stop talking and make your ideas a reality. Take your dreams seriously, have meetings, learn the skills you need, find a mentor, make it happen. Sometimes you have to fake it til you make it, but I really think most people are doing that anyway.