Is owning a coffee shop in a place like Provo something of a quixotic endeavor? Perhaps. This is an area whose largest demographic is a group of people who believe with all their hearts that a cup of joe will keep them on the wrong side of the Pearly Gates. More power to them, but the effect is a downtown that probably needs one locally-owned coffee shop and one Starbucks to service all the heathens. Not counting F Stop, the youngest in a string of coffee shops, we already have five, if you count what’s in Orem. However, according to Caleb Mitchell, F Stop’s owner, the space is an art gallery first and a coffee shop second.
Last year saw a surge of art appreciation in Provo. The first Friday night of every month saw city streets thronged with people and it seemed like you couldn’t frequent any locally-owned business that did not feature someone’s paintings, sculptures, or installations.
But in the last six months the number of galleries on University Ave. has been decimated. Mode Boutique and Coal Umbrella are gone the way of the dodo, as are the Sego Art Gallery and the Pennyroyal Cafe. “Since then, University Avenue has been pretty dead, in terms of art,” says Mitchell. “I like to think of F Stop as the last holdout.”
The space was solely a gallery upon its opening. Then, on the Independence Day weekend this past year, F Stop started serving drinks – mainly to get more people in to look at the art. “Provo has got exponential potential, in terms of the arts,” Mitchell says. “But we need to get people to pay attention.” He hopes for F Stop to operate as a sort of gateway to a more thriving art scene in Provo. “Access leads to awareness, to acceptance.”
However, Mitchell isn’t looking for the kind of awareness or acceptance where people shrug, say “That picture is pretty,” and move on with their lives. Citing Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he tells me that there are different types of subjective experience – theory, criticism, etc. In contrast, there is only one type of purely objective experience – being there and seeing the work firsthand. “That right there is the cutting edge, and that’s what the gallery, to me, represents.”
Mitchell cites the most recent show at the space, a joint venture between local artists Jason Metcalf and Ryan Neely. “People are looking at what’s on the walls and saying to themselves, ‘Why can’t I paint some triangles and have my own gallery show here?’ My answer is, ‘Because you didn’t.’” He continues, “The only way to truly experience the work, to understand it, to understand where the artist is coming from, is to be right there looking it at, to have access to it.”
It’s a decidedly anti-Barthian viewpoint. For Mitchell, the artist isn’t disconnected from the work once it’s finished. The author is not dead. Rather, the work is a window into the philosophy, beliefs and emotions of the artist. F Stop therefore operates as a conduit to that sort of understanding and appreciation.
Of course, F Stop is also a cafe, and it serves a a seriously good cup of coffee. But Mitchell doesn’t want the functions of his store to end with “art gallery and coffee shop.” “We want to offer more things to stimulate the intellect. I’d like the gallery to become an intellectual and artistic center in Provo. I’d like to see F Stop have lectures and readings. Become the ol’ preachin’ post. The soapbox.”