Café Gatto Nero and Print Studio

gattoneroST. JOHNSBURY - Since 2008, local artists, Bill and Kim Darling have displayed their work at their St. Johnsbury gallery, Gatto Nero. For the past couple of years, the couple has attempted to make their art-space more inclusive to the public by opening an in-house cafe.

Now, with the help of their son Simon, the business is running as smoothly as ever. 

According to Simon, something that was lost in the cafe's initial trial was the emphasis on the artwork. "A huge motivation to me here is to highlight the printmaking and the artwork, and offer a place for people to interact with it. That is a huge part of the mission, to not just be a cafe. It's a gallery. It's a gallery hosting a cafe, and not the other way around."

The gallery component of the space can certainly be felt now, as the walls are decorated in the Darling's artwork. As Bill discussed his love for incorporating the community in his craft, he walked around the room, discussing each piece of work. Every print and painting possessing a story, each as intricate as the next. 

Simon discussed the businesses' progress, stating that everyone involved is learning along the way. Currently, their product selection is small, focusing on high quality food and atmosphere. "We're trying to keep it simple. Make really great beverages and simple snacks, and foster a space for people to come and be creative, spend time, maybe enjoy some music, hang out, and play board games. We want to host a variety of events and just use this space to leverage creativity and engender a strong community."

When elaborating on the concept of community engagement, Simon talked about the lack of places to simply "hang-out" in the area. "There's this forward momentum that I'm feeling around here, but there aren't a lot of places to meet with a friend and just catch up. You know? A place where you can stay for hours if you need to do some work, or if you want to meet somebody new...a place for exchange."

When describing Gatto Nero's mission, Simon often talked about meeting the needs of their audience. And when asked who exactly their audience is, he was excited to share a broad collection of characters. Anyone from poetry groups, to students, and even men talking about muscle cars have stopped by, all enjoying the new meeting spot.

"Yesterday we were filled in the afternoon. There were a few ladies from around town who sat on the couch and ate a mochi platter. All of the tables were filled with students, and there were three international students sitting out front, drinking their milkshake and listening to some really awesome Arabic music, and it felt right. It was a moment of like, this is what we're going for, because it wasn't just one dynamic. It wasn't just students or just locals. It was a good mix of people and there was a lot of things going on, and it was just interesting, it was warm, and it was fun. It was just, it was a good moment."

Over the course of the summer, Simon intends to host a number of events at the gallery, hoping to incorporate musical acts in particular.

A bluegrass jam session will be taking place this Friday, and all are encouraged to attend.