Widgets Magazine

Eat, Look, Admire

Cool Café at Cantor Arts Center showcases student art spaces

There are not many places where the works of Rodin, Warhol and undergraduate students come together, but Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center proves an exception.

While Cantor itself is known for its displays of great works, what you may not know is that it is also home to a café downstairs that showcases the art of aspiring Picassos–none other than Stanford students. Debuted in 2000, the Cool Café at the Cantor Arts Center lives up to its name, taking principles of innovation and uniqueness beyond its menu.

The Café’s lively atmosphere comes from a combination of fare, vibe and art. Students, faculty and visitors enjoy conversations over fresh, organic food while the waiters and owner cheerfully move about the café serving their customers. Outside is a beautiful seating area, where customers can chow down while enjoying spring quarter sunshine. Three large paintings hang on a vibrant red-orange wall inside.

The paintings are the creations of Emma Webster ’11, who believes that the Cool Café provides the perfect space for her work.

“When people go to the CoHo,” Webster said, “the atmosphere is ‘football and beer,’ rather than a primary focus on the artwork.”

Unlike the CoHo and Wallenberg Hall, both of which display works of art by students, the ambience of Cool Café allows visitors to concentrate on the art.

“People come when their senses are open and they are in a state to fully appreciate art,” café owner Jesse Cool said.

Webster’s art begins the new initiative of displaying student artwork at the café. Cool was inspired to feature student artwork because she believed student pieces would provide a bold dynamism, while retaining a personal atmosphere, both of which are key aspects of the café.

Courtesy of Emma Webster

“I wanted it to be bold, contemporary, personal, ever-changing,” Cool said. “I want it to be something to talk about.”

Not only does the student art enhance the café experience, it also allows exhibitors to transition from student artists to professionals.

“Displaying art in the café represents a great leap, since it’s so hard to go from the status of a student to a professional,” Webster said.

The café maintains a supportive relationship not only to the Cantor Arts Center, but also to up-and-coming artists and art students.

“To me, this café is another way of creating community and supporting budding artists, and I think the display will hopefully raise awareness and support for the arts,” Cool said.

Patience Young, museum curator at Cantor, expressed enthusiasm about Cool Café providing a space to showcase student talent.

“The Cantor Arts Center does not allow student work to be displayed because of complicated, long-standing problems dealing with issues of priority,” Young said. “But the café was a way to circumvent these rules–it’s a win-win situation.”

Ultimately, the fact that Cantor does not display student art may not pose a barrier in the Stanford University Art Initiative after all.

“In a museum, or a more scholarly environment, there is a certain way you are supposed to act,” said Kristen Olson, academic and educational technology liaison. “But the café is a lively space, which leads to a different atmosphere.”

According to Webster, the display space gives students artistic freedom they likely would not have in other displays on campus.

“There is no restriction,” she said. “You can really get creative, and then you start to make connections and see the relationships between the different works of art in the museum.”

Webster’s exhibit at the Cool Café is part of a larger program called Your Art Here, which operates under the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCa), an organization that allows students to get involved in the arts on campus.

It is this intersection of good food, art and student support that makes the Cool Café, according to Cool, “a gem at Stanford University.”