Four Questions With…Patrick Downey

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Madison, WI

Yesterday we wrote about The Victory coffee shop in Madison, WI to highlight their success in navigating the pandemic. Today, we have the first of what may become a new feature here at The Great Lakes Observer: Four Questions With…

What drew you to Madison from Brooklyn?

My wife and I found ourselves starting a family, and we wanted our kids to grow up closer to their relatives, most of whom are in Wisconsin or Minnesota. We didn’t particularly want to live in a big city – in my case, after 26 years living in NYC I was ready for a break from the pace of it all. My wife suggested Madison, and I said ok. So it wasn’t really my idea.

How did you get started with your art and what made you turn towards that outlet for the business?

I’ve been making art of some kind for pretty much my whole life. I was much more focused on playing music and writing until about 15 years ago, when I somewhat innocently started drawing with a pencil on the side of a white paper coffee cup. It caught my attention and it gradually became more and more elaborate and more and more of a thing. I used all different kinds of markers, paint and ink, and they were rather sought after, in the confines of the little community that formed around the nucleus of my shop in brooklyn. I continued to make art after we came here, more on paper and less on cups. One day a customer asked if he could look through my drawings and I said yes; he asked me if I sold them and I told him I WOULD sell them; he offered $100 for two small drawings and of course I said yes. Over the next few years I sold some and gave some away and had them taped to the wall in my shop. I thought about doing something to try and sell more but I really didn’t, other than make more. The largest ones were probably 27” x 24”, but most were smaller. all on paper of some kind. I also thought about using canvases, but didn’t. The pandemic came, business slowed down immensely, and I found myself with a lot of time on my hands during the workday, and a big empty room where customers usually sat, so I brought up some large canvases that I had scavenged, and started making art on those. I quickly realized that there was something about the larger format that I loved, and the response from people coming in to get coffee was significantly more focused on people owning them, so I started selling them. It was a HUGE help getting through the winter.

What does community mean to you?

Community: the answer to that question could fill volumes, I guess, but I’m going to keep it brief, not in any ranked order, but a few thoughts I have about it: in a community people know who you are, and some of them know you better than that. members of a community tend to care about each other (even the ones they may not get along with great). At The Victory, especially in Brooklyn, that can be something that is not only needed, but needed in a way that is almost urgent. It can make the job of navigating the city feel much less daunting and lonely. I think that for that reason The Victory came to be an important and intensely valued part of the lives of the people who chose to belong to that community. Another thing about the community of The Victory here and in Brooklyn is that anyone can decide to belong to it: we are not even remotely exclusive or snotty or inclined to decide who belongs and who doesn’t, which means people can also decide for themselves what community means to them in this context, and then make that happen. I have been told that our policy of not letting people talk on their cell phones inside encourages them to talk to each other. I have the policy because I think it is mind-numbing [and] annoying to have to listen to other people’s phone conversations, and since it’s my place, I get to make some things about it conform to my idea of what a little coffee shop should feel like. We also intentionally didn’t have WiFi until a couple of years ago. We are rather insistent that people interact with those of us behind the counter in a manner reflecting the fact that we are also people. In today’s compartmentalizations consumer-driven world, that can be a hard sell; those who insist on being rude/dismissive tend to start having interactions, especially with me, that convince them that they would like other places better. That is perhaps closest to the implication of our tongue-in-cheek slogan “It’s not for everyone,”. I further think that when there aren’t people like that in the mix, everyone else tends to relax and act in a more natural way, and start to feel about each other the way that one would hope to feel about other members of a community. I sometimes like to say that we are a community with a small “c”.

Any upcoming events you’d like to highlight?

We do have some events: Thursday June 24 there will be a performance by Mickey Sunshine at 8 pm. Thursday July 8 there will be an art opening [where] I will be hanging my new work; we are hoping to make the art thing a monthly event.

Thank you again to Patrick for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to visit The Victory, they are open 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch.

The Victory

2710 Atwood Ave.
Madison, WI 53704