art with a cup of joe:
the pluses and minuses

Stolen Art
Stolen art with a cup of Joe & the pluses and minuses of hanging in local establishments

Hanging artwork in local cafes establishments has its positives and negatives. For one, your work can reach a broader audience and establish a sale or two. Cafes and restaurants don't usually charge a whopping 50% commission like most galleries. Your audience in a cafe is not as pretentious like a gallery crowd can sometimes be. Art on the walls drives revenue and invites new and established patrons for a cup of Joe or a drink, hopefully to strike up a good conversation and engage in your art. It's a win, win situation right?

Well, kind of. There is a lot of work expended by the artist. You're hanging it, and doing the footwork to promote it. Because of this, most cafes charge little if any commission. It should be this way. Some cafes have written contracts which if you read carefully often place all responsibility onto the artist. Tough luck if its gets lost or stolen. The staff there can only do so much and chances are they don't pay attention. But they still invite the artist as if they are doing you a favor.

Water Melon Door by Jason WhitteTo make this personal, I had a painting stolen this past May. I was invited to hang a piece in a show the Art Guy was sponsoring along with several other local artists at Xando Cafe in Charles village where the space is rented from Cosi management.

When I received a call from the Artguy on the 28th regarding the missing piece titled Watermelon Door, I was dumbfounded. The Artguy asked me if I had taken the piece from the show. I replied, "no... of course not." "Jason, I think somebody may have walked off with your piece," the Artguy said in that gritty and no BS tone of voice that defines him. In disbelief I said, "You've got to be kidding..." I was stunned. My heart then began to sink like lead weight as I told my wife what had happened. There was a shimmer of hope, because the Art Guy informed me there were several security cameras in the area. Who could just walk off the 36 x 48 inch painting? It had to be caught on video tape.

The security staff responsible for video monitoring of the building poured over the tape and time period between the 26th and 27th. No luck. It's been two months now and despite my efforts no clues or tips have been provided. There is a generous award I'm offering for the piece, but frankly my hope is dwindling.

Maybe I should I feel slightly intrigued that my work was stolen. Did somebody like the piece so much as to be compelled to rip it off the wall and hang it in their environment? My heart and soul are placed in that piece - and I feel angry. I've lost potential revenue, time and effort.

The management at Xando has been somewhat sympathetic. I realize that they are often busy in the day serving customers. But it doesn't excuse the problem of theft. After all they probably don't let mirrors and other adornments disappear off the walls. Cafes should take the proper steps to ensure an artist's work is adequately monitored. I've hung in numerous cafes and coffeehouses in Seattle for 6 years prior to Baltimore. In Seattle, I mainly dealt with smaller, locally owned establishments that were grateful to have work on the wall and welcomed artists. They knew that art on the wall enhanced there space and brought customers which increased revenue. I never had problem with theft in Seattle, thankfully. Chain establishments like Xando don't get this concept, or they don't foster the artist/cafe relationship properly. They act as if they are doing you a favor by "graciously" lending you their wall space.

I don't want any other artist to go through what I have experienced, so I?m providing some tips for those of you that venture and dare to hang your work in cafes or restaurants:

  • Be especially wary of hanging your work in bigger "chain" type cafes.
  • Don't believe the management if they tell you theft never occurs, or there hasn't been a problem with damage or stolen work.
  • Ask for a contract and read it carefully.
  • In the hanging space look for doors and quick entry exit points. Avoid these places and make sure the work is in full view of staff.
  • Investigate way of properly securing your work.
  • Hang in a gallery with adequate security. I guess that's the part with the steeper commission, you pay for the peace of mind with a higher commission.

I hope my experience and information helps another artist. If you have any information or know the whereabouts of this piece "Watermelon Door?" please contact me at jjwoodee [at] gmail.com

Jason Witte
Jason Witte Art
Hampden - Baltmore, MD
Comment welcome at jjwoodee@gmail.com


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