When co-owner Nathan Mallory opened shop on Feb. 3, 2010, his goal was to do more than serve coffee. He also wanted to serve the Brookline community by using his storefront as a platform for local artists.
To that end, Mallory started holding a to host performance artists of all ages and any type, including bands, solo musical performers, comedians, and spoken word and slam poets, as well as some unexpected acts, such as magicians.
Mallory next provided visual and crafts artists with an avenue for expression that ran right through Cannon Coffee.
Within the first few months of its operation, he decked the walls and shelves of his business with paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewelry, pottery and other physical creations made by area artists, most, if not all, of which Mallory brokered for sale without commission.
As each of these supportive showcases built up momentum, Mallory was faced with a very real problem: there was only so much he could do within the physical confines of his business.
“The talent and need (of Brookline artists) exceeds the space available in this coffee shop,” said Mallory, who is both a Brookline business owner and resident.
“I can’t do enough in my four walls,” he said, “so I decided to take what goes on in here outside.”
Mallory explained that he not only wanted to give Brookline artists a larger forum, but also wanted to bring their work to a larger audience. In order to do all of this, he said, the movement had to be disenfranchised from Cannon Coffee.
And that’s how Mallory came up with the idea for the Brookline Community Arts Initiative (BCAI), which was conceived approximately six months ago and is expected to be born sometime in late October.
With BCAI, Mallory hopes to achieve a broad collaboration of artists, providing both a network for promotion and awareness, and an apparatus for creative exchange.
Focusing on opportunity and potential, he said BCAI will operate to brand Brookline as a culturally rich neighborhood and establish a strong connectivity between artistic gifts and community involvement.
“I’m looking to connect all the dots to form a unified Brookline arts forum, where different arts, artists and venues can come together,” Mallory said.
Though Mallory initially entertained for BCAI and considered , BCAI has taken shape rapidly over the past few months and is only a few steps away from legal formation as a nonprofit subsidiary of South Pittsburgh Development Corporation.
According to its Vice President Keith Knecht, South Pittsburgh Development Corporation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community development corporation focused on the betterment of Brookline and, in particular, of Brookline Boulevard.
“Our four main goals are (community) organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring,” Knecht said before giving examples of the corporation’s outreach, which involves land control, urban conservation projects, litter cleanup, boulevard renovation and community decoration.
The board of directors for South Pittsburgh Development Corp. will vote on Mallory’s BCAI proposal at its October meeting.
Mallory is optimistic that his proposal will pass, as is Knecht, who said: “(Mallory) has a lot of energy and has been a great resource to the Brookline community. I’m all for any way to help him continue his vision.”
Funds to support the formation of BCAI were garnered through Mallory’s efforts this summer, when he coordinated an event at Club Café in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood that featured six different Brookline artists from various performance genres and raised more than $800.
Beyond Brookline, Mallory looks forward to using BCAI as a model for artist advocacy in his endeavors in other nearby neighborhoods.
In partnership with former mayoral candidate and philanthropist Kevin Acklin, Mallory is an operations manager with Project Coffeehouse, a nonprofit organization that empowers neighborhood communities by operating coffeehouses and reinvesting all of the shops’ proceeds back into the communities where they are seated.
Brew on Broadway, a Project Coffeehouse shop, recently opened in Beechview, and similar coffeehouses are already on the map for the Hill District and uptown Pittsburgh.