The Conversationalist Project originated in 2007 as a one-time component of the (now defunct) Minneapolis Design Fiesta. After a five year hiatus, the project was jump-started and revamped in September 2011 when Taylor Baldry returned to the United States after living in Japan for two years. Craving conversations in his native tongue, Baldry attempted to reconnect with old friends but realized that most had moved away and communicating via text, Facebook and email was incredibly unrewarding. So on a sunny fall afternoon he propped up a table, chairs and a sandwich board sign in a vacant lot in Minneapolis and invited strangers to talk to him by selecting a topic from a topic menu.
The Conversationalist quickly grew from a way for Baldry to satiate his hunger for conversation into a means of reminding strangers what it is like to have face-to-face conversations in the digital age. After several weekends of conversing with strangers on Lake Calhoun, the Star Tribune newspaper took notice and wrote a featured article about the project. Wayne Fuller, who started a similar social engagement project called “Talk it Out with Me”, reached out to collaborate with Baldry after reading the article and the pair connected in the winter to found the Conversationalist’s Cafe.
In its current form, the Conversationalist Project is comprised of both the Conversationalist (Baldry hosting a conversation table for one-on-one discussions) and the Conversationalist’s Cafe (Baldy and Fuller acting as topics waiters and facilitating conversations between strangers in a faux-cafe setting).