When a festival or carnival is held in Venice, the citizens of the city each put on a mask. We invited the people of Oxford to do the opposite.
Oxford Unmasked was a project run by The Oxford Muse which invited people to put aside the mask of small-talk and engage in meaningful conversation. A series of 'conversation meals' were held where the items on the menu were topics for discussion and where individuals from Oxford's diverse communities had the chance to converse with people they would not normally meet.
Oxford Unmasked was part of a year of festivals and special events celebrating 1000 years of Oxfordshire, coordinated by the cultural development agency Oxford Inspires. Oxford Unmasked was the brainchild of The Oxford Muse, founded by historian Theodore Zeldin to inspire invention and courage in personal, professional and cultural life.
The Conversation Meals were based on one-to-one contact: representatives from a wide range of community organisations, local government, public services, educational institutions, local businesses, faith groups and other citizens were seated in pairs and 'unmasked' themselves by discussing their attitudes to friendship, family, compassion, aspiration, inspiration and much more besides.
Participants for the first meal included respresentatives from the Oxford Night Shelter, Oxfordshire Mind and the Asian Cultural Centre, an Oxford college porter, a lawyer, a Polish builder, school teachers, a community artist, a university professor, an office administrator and many more.
Organiser Roman Krznaric, from The Oxford Muse, says: 'The Menu of Conversation provides a creative approach to building community trust and mutual understanding in the city. We've had great success with similar events, for instance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with community leaders and public officials in Leeds, and with youth groups in Rwanda.'
Alexandra Brooks, corporate communications manager, BMW Group Plant Oxford, says: 'As of one of Oxford's major companies, we employ a wide range of people from diverse communities, so we are delighted to be sponsoring new ways of bringing people together within the city.'
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