“Sit. Breathe. Contemplate. Meditate.”
In our hectic, digital-centric lives, we don’t often see messages like this in the course of our day.
New benches around Lake of the Isles and in Currie Park in South Minneapolis are inscribed with these words and similar messages as part of The Minneapolis Good Chair Project — the brainchild of Mark Addicks, who recently retired from General Mills after serving as chief marketing officer.
The goal is to encourage people to take time to sit, relax and get a chance to meet new people.
Addicks noticed how movable chairs at St. Olaf and rocking chairs in airports across the country changed people’s behavior and humanized spaces, encouraging people to take time for conversations and contemplation.
“We have beautiful parks, but my own behavior with the parks was my work behavior,” he said, noting he’d get home, change and head for a walk around the lake without slowing down to absorb all the beauty around him.
He got the idea to create special chairs for the parks, collaborating with the Park Board and custom furniture designer Willie Willette. There are 30 white oak chairs around Lake of the Isles and in Currie Park. The chairs have enough space for two to sit comfortably.
“I think the encouragement to stop, relax and think is something that’s been greatly forgotten,” Willette said. “People are always working when they are going around the lake — they are either on the phone, walking really quickly, running or pushing their baby cart.”
He also pointed out that it can be challenging to get Minnesotans to stop, sit and interact with strangers.
“If you make people feel like they’re comfortable, maybe they will act like they are, too,” he said. “And the benches are comfortable.”
So far, Addicks has contributed funding for them. The chairs will be stored over the winter and return next summer.
He is also planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money for additional chairs to be placed at parks next summer.
Addicks plans to use social media to encourage people to meet up at the chairs for events like book club meetings. He also would like to find volunteers to help with the project.
Park Board President Anita Tabb said people have shown great appreciation of the benches, especially in Currie Park.
“It’s really fun when an idea comes from the community and it turns out we can work together and do something that serves the community well,” she said.
To learn more about The Minneapolis Good Chair Project, go to Facebook.com/Mplsgoodchair