According to Café Pergolesi owner Karl Heiman, there are only two restrictions for local artists who wish to be featured at his establishment: their work must have a certain level of quality, and it must not depict any rotten or bad food, as this would prove rather unappetizing for the eatery’s patrons.
“I’m not here to judge any of the art for its content,” the elusive Heiman tells me, laughing, over the phone. The eclectic styles found within the establishment at any given point in time are a give away that judgment isn’t a factor at Café Pergolesi. Neither is commission. Artists who hang their work at the cafe receive full payment if one of their pieces, which the café showcases for one month in one of its four rooms, sells. While other coffee shops have similar exhibitions, Café Pergolesi is unique in that it has four rooms and may showcase multiple artists at one time.
Artists, many of them college students, have been displaying their art at Café Pergolesi for the last 25 years. Some are simply happy to have their work in a public venue, but Heiman estimates that about 70 percent of featured artists also schedule a reception for their pieces where friends and visitors can come and enjoy food or even a live band brought in by the artist, all the while admiring the work.
Heiman recalls one of the most impressive showcases he has ever seen: during July of 2008 and 2009, a couple of local tattoo artists covered the walls of the café in a wallpaper of tattoo drawings. From the classic skull and cross bones to more unique tattoos such as depictions of comic book characters, the tattoo art engulfed the already whimsical and mismatched furniture of the place, causing Heiman to remember it as the “best art show.”
The process to have one’s work featured is rather simple. Heiman explains that most artists simply walk in with samples or contact him through the café’s website. Kelsey Harrison, a young artist who recently lived in Santa Cruz but has since moved to New York City to study art, had her sculptures, which utilize clay, wood and metal, displayed at Café Pergolesi this past year.
“My friend had just shown here so she just gave me the owners e-mail address,” explains Harrison. “We set up a meeting to look over my portfolio to make sure I wasn’t gluing matchbooks to printer paper and duct taping it to walls. We picked the next open month and that’s it.”