Taylor Baldry
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The Conversationalist

 
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The Conversationalist’s Cafe

Part performance art, part social experiment, the Conversationalist's Café sought to bring face-to-face conversation back into the digital age.

From 2011-2013 the project engaged hundreds of participants, inspired similar projects across the country, and was featured by MPR News, the Star Tribune, and Experience Life! magazine.

Role: experience designer, host

 
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How it worked


Set up in parks and museums, the Conversationalist’s Café was a pop-up “café” where no food or drinks were served–only conversations with strangers. Willing participants were seated at tables and given special “topics menus” from which they could collectively choose a subject to discuss. Myself and another artist, Wayne Fuller, acted as hosts, facilitators, and conversation waiters, offering breath mints or conversation advice when needed.

 
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How it began

The project began in 2011 when I returned to Minnesota after living in Japan for two years. My hope was that by having conversations with strangers, I would be able to re-familiarize myself with speaking in my native tongue. Throughout that fall I propped up a table, chairs, and a sandwich board sign offering “free conversations” in parks and vacant lots throughout Minneapolis,

inviting adventurous passersby to select a topic from a conversation menu (or suggest their own). The project later evolved into a pop-up café, where instead of me playing the conversationalist, participants engaged with one another without the aid of social media or technology.

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reception


I was always delighted by not only how readily people took a seat, but also by how rich, open, funny, and genuine the discussions were. I also had many weird conversations involving everything from love triangles (many participants mistook me for a therapist and asked me for advice concerning their infidelity), to an expecting mother’s psychic unborn baby, to spooky ghost stories.

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