Conversation and Community

Conversations are at the heart of relationships, which are at the heart of communities. I believe that a conversational culture marks out healthy, vibrant communities. Yet today’s social fabric is fraying. We yearn for the bonds of mutual connection and of understanding, yet our communal lives as experienced in civic organizations, social groups and neighborhoods are increasingly fractured and fragmented. Squishtalks designs conversation-based interventions that enhance our social capital, build awareness and rapport and contribute to the wellbeing of our communities and the people within them.

Community Conversations in Action

Below is a selection of community-based conversation engagements that Squishtalks has designed and delivered.

all that ever was, always is

Artist Watie White partnered with Habitat for Humanity to create site specific art installations at two adjacent condemned houses, titled “all that ever was, always is.” I developed a series of outdoor community conversation experiences at the installation over three evenings in September 2014. Various ethical, artistic, conceptual and logistical considerations informed the experience, which was principally concerned with public art’s ability to spark conversations about the interwoven issues of race, economic injustice, equity and community participation. This collaboration brought together local and non-local residents, as well as students from Creighton University’s communications studies program.

a couple of 830 mile long conversations

Akin to a pilgrimage, I spent four weeks in an RV traveling to small towns across Nebraska. In each of the 17 towns I visited, I created a space for conversation and invited people to talk with me. a couple of 830 mile long conversations was an endeavor honoring a long line of oral traditions. In an RV, I adventured for four weeks along the side roads and among the small towns of the state to talk with Nebraskans. After more than a hundred formal and informal conversations, the project demonstrated that conversation could bridge divides and awaken our humanity. Traveling through conversations, discovering the lives, cultures and stories of people I met, the project was a long hello to Nebraska.

New Nebraskans

Justice for our Neighbors commissioned a series of five large scale murals of immigrants to Nebraska for a project called New Nebraskans. The murals were applied to buildings situated in Omaha communities where significant immigrant cohorts reside. As part of this community endeavor, Squishtalks facilitated a public community event that attracted new immigrants, elected officials and community residents in a guided discussion connected to relevant cultural considerations. 

“I want to thank you for facilitating such a rich and thought provoking conversation. The event was very well done. Excellent work everyone!” – Emiliano Lerda, Executive Director, Justice for our Neighbors

Film Streams Dialogues

Film Streams is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the cultural environment of the Omaha area community through the presentation and discussion of film as an art form. Squishtalks facilitated post-screening conversations following the showing of the films Black Girl and On the Bowery. After the conversation experience, one participant said, “Having to sit down and have a discussion left me energized. It made me think “art film” should only be watched with an accompanying discussion.” Another observed, “I enjoyed the generationally diverse viewpoints that were shared,” and another participant realized, “Other people noticed things that I did not notice. And it is nice to here a different perspective as well.”

Kent Bellows Artist Circles

Squishtalks created a group space for Kent Bellows Studio youth art students to engage in open dialogue about themselves and issues that informed their artistic work, while also enabling them to connect with each other. Weston Thomson, then Executive Director, said, “Stuart’s series of Squishtalks have generated a unique demand and excitement for conversation from our students. Many students who would otherwise remain antisocial find their voice in Squishtalks. I believe these conversations help develop social skills and strengthen the young artist community.”

StoryCorps Listening Party

Stories are ways we make sense of the world. In the best tradition of libraries, Omaha Public Library is a treasure trove of stories, which includes recordings made in Omaha when the StoryCorps mobile booth visited in 2007 and 2015. To celebrate the inauguration of OPL as the Omaha StoryCorps Community Archive, Squishtalks facilitated a Listening Party. The event featured thematic excerpts from the local StoryCorps archive and attendees engaged each other with their own stories. Attendees also received a few tips and tools on how to go about gathering and sharing personal stories.