Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.6

November 18, 2004


Learning from each other at the U of Streets Café

By Lina Shoumarova

Eric Abitbol and Lara Evoy, from the University of the Streets Café, are excited about one of their forthcoming sessions. It’s an exchange revolving around the question “Does culture still matter to you?” This will be a first-time collaboration between the U of S Café and the McGill and Concordia Alumni Associations.

Interviewed, fittingly, in a coffee shop. Evoy explained, “We wanted to reach out to the graduates who rarely engage in public discussions once they have left the university.”

Eric Abitbol is the Café’s co-ordinator and the driving force behind the movement. He is also a socially conscious author and magazine publisher who has worked in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. His enthusiasm about public conversation is infectious.

Lara Evoy is a Montreal-based researcher, curator and activist. She will be the moderator of the session, which will happen on Nov. 29 at Café Sarajevo from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The guest speaker will be David Moss, director of the Opéra de Montréal.

Although this session is geared to alumni, it is open to anyone. The idea has inspired artist Frédéric Eibner to create an imaginative poster for the occasion.

To select the topic for discussion, the organizers of the event reviewed hundreds of suggestions sent by alumni from both universities.

Evoy intends to focus the discussion on the social and participatory dimensions of art and culture: “What does culture mean?” and “Who is art for?”

This approach fits in with the U of S Café’s mandate as well as with Evoy’s work as founder of Les productions Matière Grise, which promotes engaged citizenship through art projects and helps emerging artists gain experience.

“The important thing for me as a moderator is to make the group feel they have a voice. I don’t want to have a set agenda. I want to nurture the conversation and encourage everyone to participate.”

Abitbol added with a smile, “Part of the joy is the spontaneity of the conversations.”

Following a centuries-old tradition of public discussions about matters of common concern, the U of S Café gives people a chance to connect with their communities, and learn through open-minded and sincere sharing of ideas, experience and stories.

For its one and a half years of existence, the U of S Café has attracted hundreds of participants from all walks of life. Reflecting the all-inclusive objective of the Café, its sessions are dispersed across the city: Café Rico in Plateau Mont-Royal, Co-op de la maison verte in NDG, Café Esperanza in Mile End, La Corbeille in Cartierville and Café Sarajevo in Ville-Marie.

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