Firman Brown has a deep appreciation for the ways people can inspire each other. He came to Californa from Ohio when he was 17 and the experience was transformative. “It culturalized me to a different perspective and social experience,” he explains. Hip, tony SoCal introduced him to liberal concepts as well as a sophisticated and international community that opened his eyes to his own potential. “These were people who were living their dreams,” he recalls. “And I knew so much was possible because I had so much social exposure.”

It’s that opportunity for social exposure that he has created with his recently opened Centre for Art and Talk in Ventura. Envisioned as “a place for social and emotional connectivity,” the Centre provides a venue where groups of people can come together to discuss philosophy, film, art, music or even just an interesting life experience. “Go somewhere, sit down, talk to people for an hour — that’s what this is,” Brown says. “Share and connect with people.”

He thinks of it as an updated version of the saloon. “The saloon was a social venue for the coal miners, a place where they could de-stress and have an experience that wasn’t work,” Brown describes. The Centre is more like a salon, where the attendants come together specifically to converse in a format that is semi-structured and topic-based. Topics might include entertainment, relationships or heady questions such as “Why do people talk to each other?” or “How has media affected life?”



People gather for thoughtful conversation at the Centre for Art and Talk in Ventura.
Photo by: Heber Pelayo


Sessions start with monologues. Each member of the group (usually about six people) gets three to five minutes to talk without interruption so everyone has a chance to be heard. Then the dialogue portion begins. Facilitators help keep the discussion on topic and respectful. There is often a music component (particularly on weekend jazz nights), and the Centre books pianists, guitarists and vocalists who often partake in the discussion as well. Participants enjoy a lively evening of friendly conversation and have the opportunity to benefit from someone else’s perspective. “We are each other’s best resource to understand how the world works,” Brown says.

Intellectual stimulation, new friendships and business contacts are a natural outcome of these sessions, but Brown sees the Centre as fulfilling a deeper mission as well; to foster intelligence in the social and emotional spheres. Brown believes that helping people increase their social and emotional intelligence will empower them and allow them to find greater success and fulfillment in all parts of their life. “We are complex creatures. We can’t access greater parts of our brain through basic tasks. We do it by interacting with each other.”

Sessions at the Centre for Art and Talk are available to members only, although the first one is free. (Contact the Centre for scheduling). Anyone can up their social and emotional IQ, however, by taking advantage of the Centre’s online components. Have something to share? For a buck you can upload a short, self-made video on a topic of your choice — gardening, medical conditions, hiking trails, you name it — to the Centre’s online video database. Those seeking wisdom can select videos to watch for free. “It’s something like a TED topic forum for middle class America and the rest of the world,” Brown explains. “These are real people talking to real people.”

It is Brown’s opinion that society as a whole will benefit from an overall increase in social intelligence. “We created our society by listening to people who have ideas. That’s the basis of Western civilization,” he says. “But today our capacity to create something new has weakened. Art, music, TV have all gone flat.” He hopes social connections made through the Centre will spur a renaissance in creativity, compassion and progress. “It’s about social awareness and social growth. Our energies should not just be spent on getting money for [necessities] but for creating a better quality of life.”

To learn more, follow the Centre for Art and Talk on Facebook or visit the website at