by Tom Sims
Tom Sims covers the Tower District, Downtown Fresno, and Old Town Clovis in his monthly column Strolling the Town.
We feel these are three areas in this Valley that are filled with history, culture and interesting stories. So join us each month as Tom goes Strolling!
Mark DeRaud grew up in the coffee house movement of the 1960s. He was, by his own description, an original “Jesus Freak.”
I remember those days. While Mark was hanging out in Atwater, I was doing the same thing in Richmond, Virginia. Whenever I visit a place like Mia Cuppa Caffe, I go back in time and forward in time. We were trying to get to the future in those days, but somehow got sidetracked and institutionalized.
Mark hung out at Christian coffee houses in the Central Valley where he heard folk music, shared deep conversations, and sipped coffee. Little did he know that someday he would own his own coffee house with his wife, Wendy, nor could he know that his coffee house would be true to those early days, not really about coffee and food, but about people, art, expression and community.
Home is your first space; work is your second space; wherever you gather to live the rest of your life is your third space. All of our communities used to have them. All communities need them.
Mark, an artist by profession, created a place to paint and show his work. He needed that. In creating Mia Cuppa, other artists could also collaborate and demonstrate their creations; poets could recite; musicians could make music; neighbors could gather to share great ideas.
That is what has been happening and continues to happen.
Here is how they describe themselves: “In the heart of Fresno’s eclectic Tower District, serving locally roasted coffees, iced blended drinks, hot teas, and pastries from a local bakery, offering free Wi-Fi and a quiet place to study, read, think or hang out with friends.”
They, indeed, share local values and products and collaborate with local roasters, providers, and businesses. But it is not about the food or the coffee. It is about the welcome and the relationships. Relationships are at the heart of community. Relationships are at the heart of faith. Relationships nurture art. Relationships transform the culture. Mark does his painting at Mia Cuppa on Sundays for the very purpose of being interrupted and making new friends.
Throughout the month, various classes, clubs, and collaborative gatherings find a home there on Olive Street.
There is an art class and a regular “Paint Nite.”
There is an Art and Spirituality group.
There is a poet’s group.
It is a location on the Art Hop.
The back room is available for many other ventures and gatherings. It is Mark’s desire to see it utilized.
Mia Cuppa is fully engaged in every aspect of the Tower Community. They have taken a lead in several initiatives including a Facebook page devoted to ending crime in the neighborhood. Their social media presence is strong and active. Everything about Mia Cuppa grows out of deep expressions of Mark’s and Wendy’s faith which they embrace and practice openly, but never push in anyone’s face. They have created a relaxed environment of acceptance where people can come and share their own views in a mutual search for truth and discovery.
Mark is interested in reaching the culture, but he wonders, “why the church can’t reach a culture that is ‘spiritual’ but not religious and the role artists (here as poets) play to reintroduce the church to its spiritual roots and to the culture at large.” He observes, “I think 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 are the most underrated verses in scripture, redefining our good news narrative. No longer starting with “Good news…you are an enemy of God, but…”
Rather, he continues, it is “Good news. God in Christ has already reconciled YOU and the WHOLE WORLD to Himself, to show you how much He loves YOU! Therefore, we implore you to accept what He has already done on your behalf! This is Good News!”
Mark is an artist who loves artists, most of whom really are starving. Giving them a place to show and sell their work is a service in itself.
Painting on canvass in public, as I found him doing last Sunday, sets the pace.
He was working on a piece commissioned by a local church. Of the work in progress, he said, “This is a 10×12 foot altar piece that I have begun painting in the back of my coffee house in Fresno, California. The image is from a vision I had of the Eye of God seeing me, and I experienced his love and tenderness toward me. I am using the Eye of God Nebula because I also experienced how God’s love holds the universe together.”
Mark has a philosophy of how to support artists that is expressed in 3 simple steps:
1. Give them money,
2. Share their work with others.
3. Leave them alone some they can make more of it.
Pastor and Blogger, David Wainscott has been a big fan and friend of the DeRaud’s and recently reviewed his work in Good News for This Chaotic Moment We Are In. Dave sees Mark as a thought leader in the Christian community, challenging the church to be more authentic by being more adaptable.
Personally, I like good coffee; I like good food. I really like good conversation and the arts. What I like even more are those places in the community where they can all come together and there is a safe place to gather, share, and create. That is what Mark and Wendy have created – a creative space, born of their faith, but open to all.
620 E Olive Ave, Fresno, California 93728
Hours: Mon – Sun: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Phone: (559) 499-1844
Check out Mia Cuppa’s Facebook page.
Mia Cuppa Caffe’s Greeting:
Come and visit us in the back room tomorrow night for Art Hop. Artist and owner Mark DeRaud will be demonstrating his wipe-away technique in a live-action painting, and will be answering questions about his mural, his art work, and the upcoming art classes we are offering.
Video of Mark Speaking at FPU (permission from Mark and Dave Wainscott who posted video):