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Good food, good art and good conversation — these are the ingredients for an evening hosted by The Dinner Party Project, an Orlando-based company known for its unique take on the dinner party. This summer, The Dinner Party Project is collaborating with College Park artist LeAnn Siefferman for a series called Making Conversations.
“The Making Conversations series is a chance for people to gather and chat about some more in-depth, possibly sensitive subjects in a safe space with great moderation,” said Dana Marie Roquemore, founder and owner of the Dinner Party Project.
The series of dinners, which started in June, is aimed at creating meaningful, intentional conversations among the 12 strangers who attend. Each of the six dinners has a different topic.
“I make the dinnerware that reflects the topics,” Siefferman said. “The dinnerware’s designed and illustrated to provoke conversation on different issues.”
Siefferman started the Making Conversation series back in January, when she took a class on religion, peace, art and social change. A painter and ceramist by trade, she started creating plates with a theme of religious tolerance and religious literacy. Then she realized that the plates could actually be put to use, and the collaboration was born. Roquemore and the Dinner Party Project supply the food, the venue and the dinner party experience; Siefferman provides the plates and the conversation ideas.
“There’s something really special about being able to make the plates and the bowls that we’re eating out of,” Siefferman said. “They have a story already. It’s just a human connection.”
Those human connections are what Siefferman hopes to foster through the series. She wants to encourage people to talk to each other, learn about opinions that might contrast their own, and learn how to talk to people they disagree with.
“We need to start learning how to talk to one another,” she said. “We’ve got to learn to find this comfort in complexity. Everybody is so layered. You can’t ever truly know somebody, I don’t think. It’s a process; it’s not a destination.”
Each dinner has two moderators: one representative from Valencia’s Peace and Justice Institute who keeps the conversation moving forward and one content expert who can give insight into the topic. Siefferman stressed that she is not an expert in any of the topics the dinners cover — the project is a learning experience for her as well.
“I am doing all this so I can learn too,” she said. “I’m still in a permanent state of learning and trying to learn about other people. I have a lot of misconceptions I learn about every day. So this is a personal project for me too, to dispel my own misconceptions and assumptions about things.”
Ultimately, the goal of the series is that those who attend gain the same thing: a broadened worldview and a healthy way to deal with learning about one’s own shortcomings.
“The more connected we are the better it is, and the more diverse we are the better it is,” Roquemore said. “We’re always hoping more people will join us around the dinner table and share a meal with thinkers.”
To learn about the topics covered in Making Conversations or to sign up for a dinner, visit thedinnerpartyproject.co/making-conversations.