Conversation Café at Zimmerli Art Museum

The Zimmerli Art Museum was filled with lively stories about art and culture during a special event held by Rutgers Graduation School of Education’s (GSE) program, The Conversation Tree.

Participants discussing View of the Shrewsbury River, New Jersey

During the event, 15 conversation facilitators including eight Rutgers University students, 13 community participants, and three museum staff members gathered to engage in rich conversations surrounding the museum’s art collections. In small groups, community members explored the galleries with trained conversation facilitators, discussing specific artwork pre-selected by the Zimmerli’s curators as highlights of their collections.

The groups then reconvened and participants conversed with the Zimmerli’s curators, learning more about the artwork. The curators answered questions about the 18th century anonymous oil painting Self Portrait of an Artist in Her Studio, discussed John Kensett’s landscape painting View of the Shrewsbury RiverNew Jersey, and provided information on the Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art collections.  

Jessica Hunsdon, Program Coordinator of The Conversation Tree, and Dr. Christelle Palpacuer-Lee, Professor of Practice at the GSE, organized the event at the Zimmerlito foster a stronger connection between local community members and the university.

“The Zimmerli is a wonderful site for local-global connections to take place but community members who attend Conversation Cafés in New Brunswick may not feel comfortable visiting the museum and the Rutgers campus,” noted Hunsdon. “Organizing an event at the Zimmerli is an exciting opportunity to welcome community members to the Rutgers campus.”

Conversation Cafés are informal social spaces where adult language learners practice English conversation with Rutgers students and community members who are trained as conversation facilitators. During the event, Conversation Café participants had an opportunity to visit the Zimmerli and engage in English conversation while Rutgers students and museum staff learned from the local and global perspectives of community members. 

 “I enjoyed learning about the art while practicing my English,” stated Norma Mejia, a New Brunswick resident who has participated in English Conversation Cafés since fall 2014 and now serves as a Spanish Conversation Café facilitator. “This was my first time at the museum. Now I can come with my two sons and teach them about the art.”

The Conversation Tree was developed by the GSE and The Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service in 2012 to provide local community members the opportunity to practice English conversation skills with trained Rutgers University students.The program expanded in 2014 to train conversation facilitators within the community and provide adult language learners the opportunity to learn additional languages including Spanish and Mandarin. Several Conversation Cafés are held weekly throughout the fall and spring semesters.


The next Conversation Café at the Zimmerli is being planned for fall 2015. For more information, including details on how to become a facilitator and ongoing Conversation Cafés in New Brunswick, please visit The Conversation Tree website.

Visit our Facebook page to view photos from the event.