If there's one thing people can agree on, it's that the 2016 election revealed a divided nation. With little to no sign of closing anytime soon, many are looking for a way to bridge the chasm that exists between social and political circles. In partnership with local nonprofits and community groups, Oregon Humanities is working to do just that through a method of communication so basic it is often taken for granted: conversation.
The Conversation Project was built around the belief that coming together to talk about important issues and ideas—across different backgrounds and beliefs—is a positive step toward more just and welcoming communities. The program runs year-round and offers a variety of facilitated conversations on topics such as homelessness, immigration and privilege— all free to the public.
According to Annie Kaffen, Oregon Humanities program and special initiatives manager, the program launched in 2009 and has since offered 25 to 30 different programs each year. "We try to be intentional about including topics and ideas in that are going to be relevant across the state, always recognizing that Oregon is not one size fits all." she says. "Oregon is unique both in the spaciousness of its landscape and vastness in its diversity of perspectives."
Oregon Humanities is currently seeking topic proposals from new conversation leaders for the 2017-2018 season, which begins this fall. Kaffen says, "In a normal applications window, Organ Humanities receives around 40 applications for conversations from across the state. Since the election—in a given application window—we've had requests for conversations pushing 100." She sees the dramatic uptick in requests as a sign people feel that more is at stake and are yearning for opportunities to talk.
Central Oregon is currently home to two conversation leaders: Kerani Mitchell and Jason Graham. Mitchell serves on the Bend International School Board of Directors and facilitates the conversation, "Where Are You From? Exploring What Makes Us Oregonians," scheduled to take place in a variety of locations, including the High Desert Museum on March 21. Graham, an Oregon-based artist and educator, will facilitate the program, "What We Risk: Creativity, Vulnerability and Art," throughout the state as well.
Portland-based peace worker, Manuel Padilla, will bring "The Space Between Us: Immigrants, Refugees and Oregon" to Bend as part of the COCC Foundation's Nancy R. Chandler Visiting Scholar Program's 2017 Season of Nonviolence, on March 8. Kaffen emphasizes that the goal of The Conversation Project is not to change minds or push an agenda. She says, "It is intended to be an exploratory opportunity to come together face to face and hear what our neighbors think and why they think it."
Information on the conversations being offered in Central Oregon and throughout the state can be found on Oregon Humanities' website calendar.
"The Space Between Us: Immigrants, Refugees and Oregon"
March 8, 6:30pm Central Oregon Community College, 2600 NW College Way, Bend
"Where Are You From? Exploring What Makes Us Oregonians"
March 21, 6pm
High Desert Museum, 59800 S. Hwy 97, Bend