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Our story

Café Art’s mission is to empower people affected by homelessness through art, photography and entrepreneurship


Our vision is that formerly homeless people will be empowered through their art, actively involved in a social enterprise that helps other people in similar situations by hanging their art in cafés, exhibitions and by participating in the annual photography project and calendar

Café Art is a social enterprise with a goal of empowering people who are homeless or have recently been homeless.


The MyLondon project involves giving 100 disposable cameras out to 100 people. They have seven days to capture the London they love, with the main product being the annual calendar.


In addtion to the MyLondon calendar we also frame the artwork of people attending art sessions run by London homeless sector organisations and find cafes and offices to hang it in with the proceeds going to the artists.

Why Café Art is unique

Café Art is different from the many other amazing initiatives out there for people affected by homelessness. We aspire to represent a positive approach to a topic that can often be negative.


We bring together artists from almost all of London's homelessness organisations to showcase their work for the public to enjoy, as well as encouraging and creating an opportunity for them to earn a meaningful income. More importantly, they also raise funds for their own art groups as a way to show their appreciation for the on-going support they get from the various charities.


In January 2023 Paul Ryan and Michael Wong were named as two of 100 Big Issue Changemakers of the year.

And all of this is done through their own talent, creativity and hard work! Café Art is a social enterprise with charitable objectives, with all profits going back into building the business.​

All buyers are given the opportunity to meet the artist over a hot drink should they wish to. This is a synergy we hope will produce an instant, lasting and direct gratification for all concerned, fostering understanding.

Painting, drawing, sketching, photography, sculpturing and craft making are some of the many activities that homeless people or those who are socially excluded are encouraged to do to help boost self-esteem, confidence and self-worth.


It is also therapeutic in that it acts as an outlet to channel their feelings, frustrations, anger, but also hope and optimism for the future. Café Art's concept is simple: we help introduce the creativity and talent of these individuals to a wider audience. In this way, they know that they are not alone in their personal path to recovery as the public can admire and celebrate their achievements together with them. It should also help encourage them to engage in other activities through a sense of personal satisfaction and self-accomplishment. The more active they are in developing new skills, the quicker they will be on their journey to independence, and integrate back into the community.


Café Art framed art and hung it in cafes, facilitating one of London’s largest free public 'art gallery' until 2021 but now focuses on it's rental and sales programme. This provides an outlet for the many great artworks created by people affected by homelessness. The cafes offer a comfortable environment where they can be appreciated. One of our goals is to help raise further public awareness & empathy towards people affected by homelessness.

"ONE", the Spitalfields homeless art market, MyLondon and MyWorld
The first calendar was in 2013 and featured 12 artists.
The first photography calendar was in 2014. We give out 100 cameras every year and people take photos of London.

Michael set up Café Art in early 2012, framing and hanging art by homeless people by connecting with London's homelessness organisations & approaching independent cafes, and as well as inviting Corporations & businesses (eg Allen & Overy, Christie's, Ikea, Spitalfields etc) to hold pop-up exhibitions. He also gained endorsement of the project from Homeless Link, and support by The Royal Photographic Society.


Paul joined Michael in September 2012 and at the end of 2013 they registered Café Art as an asset-locked social enterprise registering as Café Art (UK) Community Interest Company. Café Art has free storage for art and exhibition materials in the basement of the Corner Hotel, 42 Adler Street, London E1 1EE. There is a permanent exhibition of MyLondon photographs on display in the hotel.​

From 2013 to 2019 we held an annual homeless arts market/exhibition in Spitalfields Market in August for seven days - allocating pods to homeless arts groups or individuals who had experience of homelessness.

In 2016 we approached the Old Diorama Arts Centre and helped them find homeless artists in residence - the first being David Tovey, followed by Geraldine Crimmins and James Gray, who was later employed by Cafe Art from the profits of the MyLondon calendar.

As a small social enterprise with no large organization/s funding us from the start we are very appreciative of the help we have been given from other organisations and people. By having independent, third-party support/ endorsement of the project from professional organizations like Homeless Link and The Royal Photographic Society (since 1853 the oldest photography society in the world), as well as a growing prestigious group of judges from Amateur Photographer (the world's number one selling weekly photographic magazine), FujiFilm UK to Christie's (one of the world's top art auction houses) we have managed to make a difference.


The project also connects with many of London's homelessness organizations and we could not have begun without their support. All of this support helps build confidence & self-esteem for all the participants, and it helps to enhance quality & credibility for the calendar buyers and our supporters.


The Cafe Art calendars: from ONE to MyLondon


The first calendar, ONE, was of paintings and drawings from the artists from many homelessness charities.


We printed 1,000 copies and sold it to raise money for the art groups and artists that supported the first year of Cafe Art. We gave 100% of the earnings (£5,000) to the artists and art groups they came from, mostly going to Crisis.​


We called the 2013 calendar ONE as it represented the coming together of all types of people and organisations to confront the issue of homelessness as ONE. It was launched at our Homeless art market in Spitalfields which we found was a perfect place to connect with the wider community and Londoners in general. The artists could stand in their pods and connect with the public by selling and explaining their art.

Cafe Art and MyWorld Creative Projects


In 2013 we partnered with The Royal Photographic Society to do a photography contest using 100 single-use cameras. Paul Ryan had managed and developed the Hope in Shadows contest, exhibition and calendar for Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver for seven years and this project is inspired by Hope in Shadows. The first Cafe Art photography calendar was called Home is Where the Art Is and we printed 3,000 copies. We sold many of them in markets with the participants earning 50% of the sale price. We also gave £5,000 of the earnings to the art groups. Since 2014 we have helped hundreds of photographers and calendar vendors. We pay everyone generously for their photos and the vendors earn 50% of the sale price when we sell in markets and London railway stations.

The 2021 calendar campaign, all online because of Covid-19, raised more than £5,000 for the photographers and vendors.


During 2021 and 2022 the MyWorld Creative Projects charity was set up. The goals of MyWorld are the same as Cafe Art: to empower people affected by homelessness through art, photography and entrepreneurship.

MyWorld is being launched in the summer of 2023 with Mumbai as it's first city to help in its own right. While seven cities have already done the "camera to calendar" project, this project is the second one to be done with the direct help of Cafe Art. São Paulo was the first but it was funded by Streetwise Opera and People's Palace Projects in 2015.

Read more about MyWorld's MYMUMBAI project here.

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Paul Ryan

Managing Director

Paul Ryan went to Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand to gain BA in political science following a year living in Palembang, Indonesia as an AFS exchange student. After gaining journalism qualifications from Massey University in Wellington he worked for the New Zealand Employment Service before heading to London. He was editor of Montessori International magazine in London from 1998 to 2004 before directing Hope in Shadows, a photography-based project and calendar, with non-profit legal advocacy organisation Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, Canada from 2005 to 2012.


Working with Michael Wong and his established network of artists and art groups, Paul published the first Cafe Art calendar which featured paintings in November 2012. This pilot calendar was followed by a successful launch of the MyLondon project in 2013. Paul studied at the School for Social Entrepreneurs on the Fellowship programme with the goal of establishing Café Art as a successful social enterprise, graduating in January 2014.

In 2023 Paul became the Chief Executive Officer of MyWorld Creative Projects, a charity registered in England and Wales with a goal of helping other organisations set up projects like MyLondon.

Michael Wong, Director of Cáfe Art
Michael Wong

Founder of Cafe Art


Michael is a Chinese Malaysian who has lived in the UK for many years. He founded Cafe Art while he was a volunteer at a small hostel run by St Mungo's Broadway, near King's Cross, London. His vision of Cafe Art from the start has always been about connecting 'strangers' together by creating opportunities for people to learn, value and accept each other's strengths & weaknesses. He says that this dialogue, whether it's through a face-to-face meet or a shared story, enables greater social interaction and understanding in today's communities.


He says he is a straight-talker and his passion behind what he believes in has led to the many corporate, business and homelessness art groups that were established within the first six months of Cafe Art, many of which still support the organisation up to this day.

He gained his PhD from King's College, London. He has diverse business and management skills ranging from running his own restaurant to a successful pharmaceutical communications company. His passion and strategic vision continues to steer Cafe Art making it a unique social enterprise that thinks out of the box and innovative in its approach to helping those affected by homelessness. He hopes to prove that 'self-belief' is a much more powerful tool than 'self-pity' when faced with obstacles and challenges in one's life journey.

Michael is a trustee of the MyWorld Creative Projects charity.

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