In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we often forget the people around us. How often do you strike up a conversation with someone in line at the grocery store, or say hello to someone you pass on the street? The people around us might be strangers, but they all have stories to tell and contributions to make to our lives, if only we’d offer them space in which to do so.
Well, the Community Couch is changing all that. The brainchild of three creative Ottawa entrepreneurs, “The Couch”, as it’s affectionately being referred to now, is popping up in locations all across the Ottawa region. Its goal? Not to sell things. Not for charity. Nope. The Community Couch brings people together to share moments. That’s it. And it’s wonderful.
I got the chance to talk with two of the masterminds behind this unique community project – creative ninja Shawn MacDonell, and photographer Dwayne Brown.
Suze: What was your inspiration to create the Community Couch?
Shawn: I was inspired by Rainn Wilson and Soulpancake’s ball pits.
It’s about getting neighbours to interact with one another. We pass the same people everyday on the street, we order food from the same waitress, we pay the same cashier all the time so why not get to know them a little bit better? Where do you sit and chat with your friends? In your living room. Since we didn’t think people would take us up on opening the front door and yelling come on in we figured we would take the living room to them.
Dwayne: My inspiration is always the people I get to meet when I’m doing my photography – The Community Couch project puts me out in various communities meeting folks I wouldn’t perhaps get to meet and chat with. My other inspiration is to give people an experience that might be a little out of the ordinary from what they were expecting when they were stepping out for their day. The Community Couch project is really just a fun mini event project that us as organizers and the participants get to experience together. :)
Suze: Who are you people, anyway?
Dwayne is a commercial/corporate photographer who’s been shooting for almost 30 years, working on advertising campaigns, annual reports, marketing initiatives and web projects – all of those with a strong focus on authentic people photography.
Patti has spent her career inspiring and supporting new ideas and thinking. As an entrepreneur, educator and constant innovator, she has assisted those striving to innovate and change and who, like herself, want to make an impact. Patti is a consummate community builder both online and off and is on the hunt for those looking for new ways of doing great work.
Suze: Where has the couch been spotted most recently?
Shawn: The community couch last landed at Suzy Q’s Donuts where dogs and humans alike sat on the couch and enjoyed a yummy treat.
Dwayne: We’ve taken the Community Couch to some familiar neighbourhoods for us – The Glebe, WellingtonEnd (Hintonburg) and Westboro.
Suze: What do you hope to achieve with this project?
Shawn: That people smile. That neighbours and strangers remember that it’s ok to turn to someone and say “hi, how are you doing?” and mean it.
Dwayne: I agree with Shawn, to make people smile – that’s gold for me!
Suze: What do you want people to take away from the experience of being on the Community Couch?
Shawn: Hearing each others’ stories and remembering that is ok to be a bit different and to play a little.
Dwayne: For me I’d like people to take away that it’s okay to be photographed just as themselves – having fun as their everyday selves.
Suze: How will I know if the Community Couch is coming to my neighbourhood?
Suze: How long do you plan to keep on doing this?
Shawn: Who knows. Until the next spark hits? Until the couch falls apart? Until the couch gets sold (gasp)?,
Suze: Anything else you’d like to add?
One of my favourite parts of this project is taking the time to listen to strangers’ stories. The most precious thing we have as humans is time and we can CHOOSE to make time for others. Sometimes the stories are great and fantastic, interesting and inspiring, but sometimes the stories are really shitty and boring. However, all the stories are stories and they all mean something to someone and that is precious. Doing projects like this means I get to meet some really amazing people, people I would never have a chance to meet otherwise and that is always fun and inspiring. It is what motivates me to continue to do the things I do.
Finally being unusual and doing something just slightly out of the ordinary brings great joy to those around you and to you so don’t ever be afraid to be a little out of the ordinary. Kind of like these folks: Class Dublin Taxi Driver Dancing in the Streets
Dwayne: Shawn said it all so perfectly!
Thanks guys for sharing your story, and for the rest of you, be sure to keep an eye out for The Community Couch, coming soon to an Ottawa neighbourhood near you!