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.
Role: experience designer, host
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.
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.
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.