The Salon-Keeper's Companion

An Utne Reader Guide to Conducting Salons, Council and Study Circles


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Note: What follows is the text of our original handbook for salon-keepers, published in 1991. We should have put this online long ago, but in the interest of better being late than n ever, here it is. Some of the information on specific projects may be out of date. Please email any updates or corrections to  webkeeper@utne.com . And please let us know how your salon is going. Post a note about when and where your group meets in the Salons Forum in Cafe Utne, our virtual community. Happy saloning!
Leif Utne, July, 2002

'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.'

Margaret Mead

Introduction

What happens if you throw a salon and people come, but nobody talks? Or worse, no one listens. Or people only talk about what they saw on television, or the clever things they said yesterday, or how oppressive the system is, or, you get the idea. Just inviting a group of people over to talk about what they're thinking and obsessing about lately does not in itself insure a successful salon. What follows are a few suggestions from some seasoned salon-keepers about how to have a salon that's stimulating, involving, and might even change the world.

Throughout this guide the word salon is used to describe a wide range of ways groups can interact.

  • Traditional salons like those that seeded the French Revolution tend to emphasize spirited group discussion.
  • Council, derived mainly from Native American traditions, emphasizes 'devout listening' and unpremeditated speaking.
  • Study circles tend to involve reading and focused group discussion.

Each form is a response to the particular needs and interests of the people gathering together. Sometimes a group begins meeting using the salon format and evolves into a council or study circle, or some other form, like a book club, macro-analysis seminar, consciousness raising group, coven, or twelve-step program. One thing leads to another.

A Place to Meet