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Walls of Bed-Stuy Cafe Provide Blank Canvas For Local Artists

 Kaffe Koppen is offering up its walls to local artists.
Kaffe Koppen is using its walls as a blank canvass for artists.
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — This cafe is a real work of art.

A new coffee shop in Bed-Stuy is using its walls as a blank canvas for local artists, photographers and musicians to showcase their work.

Kaffe Koppen, at 93 Howard Ave., is offering free food or drinks to anyone who brings in a work of art to exhibit in the space, and the shop will exhibit the work for two months for free, splitting profits on the work 80-20 in the artist's favor.

"We essentially want to get the local community invested in the cafe, not just to get breakfast, lunch and dinner and a cup of coffee," said Michael Hwang, 24, the shop's manager. "Having local artists invest their work in the store is a great way for that to happen."

Paintings hang across from photographs, and musicians display their CDs above one of the restaurant's counters. Muralists can even paint the walls themselves: a sprawling outdoor mural tells the story of the "rise and fall of NYC," and one barista at the shop has already begun painting a mural under the main counter inside the shop.

Hwang, who moved to the neighborhood in September after graduating from the University of Chicago, met the shop's owner after he popped in during construction.

Kaffe Koppen owner Paul Mauro, 47, was looking to turn his shop into an arts hub, and Hwang was looking for work. The two agreed to work together to make Mauro's plan a reality.

"There are many artists around, so his vision was totally doable," Hwang said. "He just didn't really know how to go about executing it."

On the menu, Kaffe Koppen — which means "cup of coffee" in Swedish — isn't just about coffee. The cafe serves up breakfast and coffee specials for $5 in the morning, as well as $6 flatbread sandwiches and $7 paninis. Fruit and vegetable smoothies cost $3 for a small and $5 for a large.

And in addition to giving artists an outlet for their work, Mauro said he wants to use the two-week-old shop as a place for artists to come together and meet each other.

"You come here, you sit down, you appreciate other artists," Mauro said. "It's...getting on the same page, and checking out each other's work."