September 20, 2013  |  Learning and Engagement
MoMA Studio: Exchange Café—What Do You Exchange?

Organized in collaboration with Caroline Woolard, a Brooklyn-based artist who participated in MoMA’s inaugural Artists Experiment initiative, MoMA Studio: Exchange Café was designed to be a social space focused on exchanged-based practices. Taking the form of a café, the Studio encouraged visitors to question notions of reciprocity, value, and property through shared experiences. Tea, milk, and honey—products that directly engage the political economy—were available by exchange. Instead of paying with legal tender, Exchange Café patrons were invited to make a resource-based currency. Located in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building in May and June 2013, Exchange Café featured an interactive participatory archive, a matrix of exchange projects, and a library of books and ephemera.”
Throughout its installation, visitors to the Exchange Café were interviewed, observed, and tracked/timed, and a selection of their drawings and comments were analyzed. We found out a lot about how visitors interacted in the space and responded to the content.

Just as we discovered in MoMA Studio: Common Senses, participants who were immediately greeted by a facilitator stayed in the Exchange Café longer, in this case 35 minutes on average, as opposed to 30 minutes un-greeted.

The Importance of Welcoming Visitors into a Space

The Importance of Welcoming Visitors into a Space

78% of participants said they made connections between their own life experiences and the ideas explored in the Exchange Café. 25% of those who made connections said they thought more about what they personally had to offer for exchange, and their comments often related to skills and abilities. “What am I willing to do…(for a cup of tea)? How do I want to spend my time? Money acts as a funny buffer, so sometimes we forget to question how we earn it…. The rewards are once-removed. Money is valued over skill sets…. Some skill sets are mistakenly overvalued, and you end up with a bunch of folks really good at something that’s not particularly useful in the long run.”

Word Cloud (Mug) of Visitor-Generated Words when Describing Exchange Cafe

Word Cloud (Mug) of visitor-generated words when describing Exchange Café

When asked to describe the Exchange Café to someone who has never visited, 45% of participants talked about the Café as a place to talk, share ideas, and think about different types of exchange while they enjoyed a cup of tea. “It’s a place where you can go get a cup of tea (or two) and in the process learn something about how we humans can trade not only in standard or conventional ways, such as money, but in creative ways as well.”

The ideas behind this Studio, and facilitation within the space, were critical to the success of Exchange Café, but so was the design. What is it about cafés that attract all types of people? What do those kinds of social spaces allow for? Have you ever had a significant conversation, explored new ideas, or broadened your perspectives thanks to an experience in a café?

“The longer we listen to one another—with real attention—the more commonality we will find in all our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions.” –Barbara Deming