It’s a familiar scene in coffee shops all over the city — people lined up at tables staring at their laptops, seemingly oblivious to those around them.
If Colin Kloecker and Troy Gallas, founders of Solutions Twin Cities, could have their way, they’d have all those folks turn off their computers for a moment and introduce themselves to one another.
They want to see people making more meaningful, in-person connections these days. They’re involved in all kinds of projects with that goal in mind. “It’s the idea that your neighbor — somebody right in your backyard — could be doing this amazing project, or just have this great idea and you would never know about it,” said Kloecker.
They’ve been working to change that by bringing together a wide variety of creative folks from many different backgrounds and fields to talk about their work and dreams for the community. Both 26, the creative duo met while studying architecture at the University of Minnesota.
One of their newest projects is called Give & Take at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. It’s described as “where happy hour meets show & tell.”
At the monthly event, everybody in attendance — presenters and audience members — are asked two questions: What do they know about? And second, what do they want to know about?
The hope is that the exchange sparks new connections.
On their website, Kloecker and Gallas write: “Our goal is to create a welcoming, participatory, and effervescent environment in which unexpected connections can happen between members of the audience/community, and people with hidden talents, fascinations, and expertise can be invited onto the stage; revealing matches and overlaps in what people know and what they want to know, and — in doing so — create stronger interstitial bonds within the community.”
The next Give & Take event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 26.
These creative community organizers have also teamed up with a few other folks on the West Bank Social Center — a gathering space billed as “equal parts performance space, speakeasy and living room space.”
The art space above the Nomad World Pub on the West Bank has a variety of activities lined up. Recent events in August included Tuesday afternoon Coffee Klatches — a chance to hangout, share stories and make some art, a live taping of Twin Cities podcast Flak Radio on Aug. 11 and Astronaut Cooper’s Parade CD Release Show on Aug. 15.
Besides working on Solutions Twin Cities projects, Gallas is a self-employed designer who is helping coordinate a school project in Ethiopia as a volunteer with Architecture Humanity Minnesota. Kloecker works for the St. Paul architecture firm Cermak Rhoades Architects.
They were inspired to start Solutions Twin Cities after attending the Worldchanging tour event in Northeast Minneapolis in October 2006. The event promoted the book, “Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century,” which explores innovative approaches to building a more sustainable future.
The gathering drew a wide swath of the Twin Cities creative community. On their way home, they decided they wanted to host their own event that would generate the same kind of energy and create a networking opportunity for people who might not otherwise cross paths.
“We really wanted to break down those boundaries between communities in the Twin Cities,” said Gallas. “There are opportunities where people crossover and work together, but there isn’t really a space where they can come together outside their social niche.”
The held their first event, Solutions Volume 1, at the Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., in May 2007. They used a Pecha Kucha format for the gathering — a presentation style developed in Japan that has people do rapid fire show-and-tell presentations.
Stephanie Kinnunen, CEO and founder of NEED magazine, was one of the presenters. The Northeast Minneapolis-based magazine she co-founded with her husband Kelly focuses on stories of humanitarian projects around the world.
“Colin and Troy have developed a unique approach to community building that is informative, relevant and inspiring with the added component of fun,” Kinnunen said. “Their knowledge of Twin Cities people, arts, projects and nonprofits never ceases to amaze me. Solutions Twin Cities has been a great platform for NEED to reach out to an audience of like-minded individuals that care about their local and global communities.”
The Solutions Twin Cities community keeps growing. It includes people in many different professions, including photography, design, architecture, engineering, journalism and nonprofit work.
Cathy ten Broeke, the point person on the campaign to end homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County, was another presenter at the first event.
“It was wonderful to be involved with them. It was incredibly refreshing to meet people so focused on solutions,” she said. “I found the presentations fascinating and the fact that they could bring so many diverse groups and interests together was great. … I know I left feeling a renewed sense of energy for my own work and very supported to keep going. People working on solutions to seemingly intractable problems are not alone.”
While people have diverse backgrounds, they share a common goal, Gallas said.
“I think that it’s just a lot of people who want to be engaged in their community in some way,” he said. “They are maybe tired of what’s happening around them, and want to see things change for the better.”
The goal is to showcase the collective creative talent of the Twin Cities.
“We were always online and seeing all these really great things happening on the East Coast, on the West Coast, overseas, and we were like alright that’s fantastic, but I turn my computer off and it’s gone. What’s happening right here?” Gallas said. “By putting these events together we wanted to highlight and showcase the work being done right here in the Twin Cities and then project that out through the website to the rest of the world.”
While they’ve created many different outlets for creative community building, they have a vision for something even grander down the road.
“[The West Bank Social Center] is the first step toward that long-term goal, and it’s always been to have a physical space in the Twin Cities — ideally a storefront space in a really busy area with a lot of foot traffic,” Kloecker explained. “We’re kind of thinking of it as a storefront for ideas. … We’re just excited about all kinds of ideas — big ideas, small ideas. It’s really about the people behind them.”