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Caffeine free: Artist opens cash-optional coffee shop in Williamsburg

Java time: Artist Fran Ilich and curator Juliana Cope show off the Diego De La Vega fair trade coffee they will exchange for goods or services at the cash-optional coffee shop.
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He’s brewing up a statement!

An anti-capitalist artist plans to open a cash-optional coffee shop in Williamsburg this weekend. At the Aridoamerica Winter Plan java joint, opening Dec. 9 in the Museo de Los Sures gallery, caffeine fiends will be able to acquire the black brew via the barter system, or by winning a unique alternative currency in a game of chance. The man behind the four-month art project, presented by the International Studio and Curatorial Program, says that it will show people that there are a latte things more important than money.

“I think we have to remember that it’s not about material things — happiness is something different,” said Fran Ilich, a Bronx artist originally from Mexico. “I want to tell the story that goods or foods can exist outside of the market.”

Patrons will receive a cuppa’ joe in exchange for goods, services, or an optional cash donation, according to Illich, who said that the barista will be happy to take whatever people have to offer.

“We don’t have a fixed amount, it’s whatever people want to give,” he said.

The pop-up shop, which is funded in part by the New York State Council on the Arts, can stay afloat with as little as 25 cents per cup, according to Ilich.

Visitors to the shop will also have a chance to play Patolli, an ancient Aztec game that Ilich likened to American classic Parcheesi. The artist has set up two of the hard-to-find boards on tables in the shop, and said that once players start they will find it hard to stop.

“It’s very addictive. It’s a ritual and there’s so much randomness involved,” he said.

In ancient Mesoamerica, Patolli players would gamble all their belongings on the result, but at the Winter Plan shop, winners will instead receive an amount of “Digital Material Sunflower,” a type of alternative currency that will be newly minted for the shop.

The shop will serve Zapatista coffee sourced from Mexico’s indigenous people, who trade it solely to those, like Ilich, who are part of a special network.

The creative coffee slinger says the project is his most ambitious yet and hopes that coffee drinkers will see the space as a much-needed refuge.

“I’m seeing a lot of people in New York are looking for a shelter, a safe space to talk, to drink some coffee, eat, cry,” he said.

Aridoamerica Winter Plan at Museo de Los Sures (120 S. First St. between Hewes Street and Union Avenue in Williamsburg, www.franilich.com). Open Dec. 9–March 30, Thu–Fri, 4–7 pm; Sat–Sun 10 am–2 pm. $Whatever you want.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 3:12 pm, December 8, 2016
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