Having opened its doors at the start of Penn State’s fall semester, the Crust & Crumb Cafe on Beaver Avenue is looking to establish itself within the downtown State College community amid the coronavirus pandemic by playing into its “artisan-inspired” atmosphere.
To accomplish this goal, cafe owner Amber Winkler and local artist Chloe Jean, who also works at the cafe as a barista, partnered to create the Starving Artist Series — a monthly, after-hours event that utilizes the cafe to showcase the work of different artists in the area.
According to Jean, the event came about when she reached out to Winkler about displaying some of her work in the cafe.
Jean said she recently finished a series of four abstract watercolor prints depicting nude women in support of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and she wanted to further promote these pieces. After she asked Winkler about displaying her work, the pair decided to make it a monthly occurrence.
“That’s where we kind of brainstormed ideas and came up with what day and stuff like that,” Jean said. “It kind of came out of nowhere.”
Prior to the Starving Artist Series event, Jean said 10% of each purchase of these pieces was donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which also motivated her to spread word of her art.
Winkler said she initially came up with the idea to showcase local artists’ work at Crust & Crumb after considering the cafe’s artistic focus.
“When I advertised [job openings at the cafe], I put culinarians, talented artists, because that’s what our environment really is here,” Winkler said. “From the latte art to just how we’re displaying our food, it’s just all kind of you eat with your eyes first.”
Winkler said Jean being an artist herself makes her a “perfect fit” to work in the cafe, which also inspired the Starving Artist Series.
Jean said she came to the Crust & Crumb Cafe because of how it related to her career as an artist after moving from Montana for her fiance’s education.
“I can’t financially run on just my art right now, and once I saw this job I thought this was the perfect artistic fit,” Jean said. “They definitely coincide with each other.”
The first event of the series was on Friday, Oct. 23 and featured Jean’s resin work, prints and earrings.
At the event, Jean said she displayed her work and spoke with each of the attendees, some of whom had already been following her art on social media. She said it was “super cool” to see everyone’s interest in her work, and she enjoyed discussing commissions with some of the visitors.
Winkler said the event was set up similarly to an art gallery where people could encircle the interior of the cafe looking at Jean’s work. She also said the cafe offered a limited menu of items for those interested, including coffees and mulled apple cider as the special feature.
Winkler said the Starving Artist Series is intended to fill in gaps left by canceled events, such as the annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
“There are so many things that haven’t been happening downtown for recreation, so we felt this was something that could be controlled with COVID, and just have something more casual,” Winkler said.
Along these lines, Winkler said she thinks the series will give people something to do amid coronavirus-induced restrictions, as well as provide students with a way to spend time outside of their apartments after being in online classes all day.
Winkler added the series will also provide the opportunity to market and show visitors what the cafe is making. She said this performs a function similar to that of the Downtown State College Improvement District’s First Fridays.
These events take place on the evening of the first Friday in each month, but have been temporarily canceled as a result of the pandemic. Participating businesses typically stay open late and offer a free or discounted item to customers.
Being that it was the debut of the Starving Artist Series and that it was only promoted the week of, Winkler said she thinks Jean’s event went well and had a “good flow” of visitors.
“There wasn’t a ton of foot traffic that night, but I feel like for the first night it was a good turnout. I really do,” Winkler said.
Mirroring this sentiment, Jean said she was not sure how the event would go at first, but she is now pleased with the result, and thinks it made for an “intimate” interaction with visitors.
Jean’s fiance and Penn State Law student Diego Garcia said he helped set up Crust & Crumb for the event, and sat outside of the cafe to pass out flyers, explain the event to passersby and facilitate the flow of people entering and exiting.
Garcia (graduate-law) added, however, that his role was to be “the supportive fiance” while Jean did all of the real work behind it.
He said he is “really proud” of Jean for landing this opportunity and for all of the work she did to make it happen, especially amid the difficulties presented by the coronavirus.
“She was really looking forward to the summer and being able to do all sorts of art walks and setting up tents, and you know really getting her artwork out there to a greater audience, but you know that kind of got the kibosh [because of the pandemic],” Garcia said. “This was her first event where she could really get out in a public eye, so I was just really excited for her.”
Additionally, Garcia said it was “really interesting” to see Jean “drum up support” on social media and draw some of her followers to the event.
“When I was sitting outside, [people] would come up and I’m like ‘This is for a local artist’ and they’d say ‘Yeah, we’re here for that,’” Garcia said. “That was really cool to see and exciting for her.”
He said he also thinks the event was successful, not only for the cafe’s goal of integrating itself in the State College community, but also for Jean’s artistic career.
“I definitely think it was beneficial for Chloe — as an artist, as a person,” Garcia said. “For her to really have to put an event together like that was a big growing point for her professionally.”
Garcia said he believes the Starving Artist Series will only continue to grow moving forward as the cafe draws in more artists and expands its outreach.
In future events, Winkler said she hopes to make a few tweaks to the series to help it run more smoothly. In addition to increasing advertising, she said she is considering switching the day of the event since a lot of people already have plans on Friday nights.
“Chloe will have to do another show. She’s like our little guinea pig,” Winkler said. “Friday, I don’t know if it was the best day, because people are out drinking and want to stay out late.”
Winkler said she plans to purchase artwork from each artist featured in the series so it can be displayed in the cafe. She is also considering serving complimentary snacks and allowing the artist more time to set up between when the cafe closes and when the event starts.
She said future events will also feature coronavirus mitigation practices similarly to the first one, including sanitizing and mask-wearing. Winkler said she will also encourage artists to bring someone to facilitate the flow of foot traffic, but if this is not a possibility, she will have a Crust & Crumb employee help with this.
As of now, Winkler said she is still looking for an artist to participate in the series in December. She said professional and non-professional artists are welcome to apply for the opportunity by sending a resume, examples of their work and what they want to display to the cafe’s email.
Although the exact timeline of the Starving Artist Series is unknown, Winkler said she hopes to continue it into 2021, bring in artists with a variety of different styles and maintain the environment Crust & Crumb seeks to provide.
“As far as the atmosphere [of the event] goes, I think it’s just what Crust & Crumb is. We’re very laid back here, very guest-focused and friendly,” Winkler said. “You feel welcome when you walk in, so that’s our culture here.”