Danville Express

Perspective - June 22, 2007

Brew-haha over art

No matter where you go, there it is: Starbucks. This is good because you know you can get the coffee you like, the way you like it whether you are in Danville, Alamo, Blackhawk or New York City. Plus 39 countries outside the United States, for that matter. This is bad because whatever happened to the local mom-and-pop coffeehouses? And enjoying the local flavor of individual communities?

The least that franchises can do when they open new sites is to reflect the individuality of the community. Starbucks' mission statement includes: "Contribute positively to our communities and our environment." It also touts its Make Your Mark program, which last year matched volunteer hours with cash contributions to designated nonprofit groups for nearly $1.6 million.

But there seems to be a disconnect between corporate and community art standards. The Starbucks on Railroad Avenue in Danville had artwork from one of its talented baristas hanging on the wall, and one customer objected because a painting of a woman showed a cigarette dangling from her fingers. The complainer did not receive satisfaction from the local or district managers, but when it got to the corporate level, the paintings were removed. The corporate office noted that the art in question was not hanging on its approved hangers and assigned a smaller wall for the locally generated art. Generic Starbucks coffee cup prints now hang on the large wall that previously had displayed the local paintings.

Coffee houses are good venues to display local artwork, benefiting both the artists and the public. Other Starbucks use their walls accordingly, including the one on Prospect, which has applications to hang art and judges each piece for good taste before hanging. When customers disagree on defining "good taste," it should be settled locally, without calling in the generic coffee cup prints.

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