The Advocate of the Art Advocate
by Violette Skye
In August 2009, I met with Lari DeLapp, owner of Coffee House Café, or CHC, in Salem, Oregon, to pitch an idea to him. I was serving as the president of the board of directors for the Keizer Art Association, where I had started a show for emerging artists called “Emerge.” I had the opportunity to bring that one-night art show, separated from the art association and all of its patrons, to a new venue once a month.
We sat down in his office upstairs above the coffee shop. I asked him what he thought about me bringing the show to his unused warehouse space behind the shop. I would clean it up completely as a trade for the free use of the space, and I would bring at least 300 customers in for each show. Lari was not tentative in his decision. In fact, he was incredibly excited and climbed right on board.
I had curated a few art shows at CHC, so we already had a working relationship. I spent most of my days there working on the warehouse with various volunteers from the community. At least a few times a week I would find myself sitting in Lari's office talking to him about how we could expand things to draw in more customers for him, and make it so we could show more art. He would meet with me at each new phase of the project, and we would talk at length about what he would like me to do with the space.
Early spring, 2010, Lari approached me and asked me to take on the role as visual arts coordinator, which I gladly accepted. Eventually, I became the booking manager for musicians, too. He had created a great sense of community inside his space.
I don't think I've ever met a businessman who put the well-being of others in the community before his own until I met Lari. He spent his week empowering young artists, musicians, poets, comedians and business owners to go out into the world and make it a better place. Lari presented me with a great opportunity to serve the community and hang out with one of my greatest friends all at the same time. I am completely thankful for his full support and his friendship.
It was sad when he came to me in November of last year to tell me that he and Debbie were thinking about closing CHC. I wasn't sad out of selfishness, but sad that my good friend was losing his own dream. We hammered through until early spring, when he told me he was closing at the end of March.
I announced I was closing the Emerge show as a fitting tribute to Lari and Debbie, who so graciously allowed us space. Lari told me that it was my persistence in trying to make a home for emerging art in Salem that kept him going.
He then told me, “Let me know when you open Emerge in Portland, and we'll be there”.