What, Who, How

by Sheetal Prajapati, 2019

a practice A habitual application of actions or processes with purpose. an exchange A mutual offering and reception. a system A form of social, economic, or political organization practiced by a group of people.

In 2013, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) invited Caroline Woolard to be part of a pilot initiative called Artists Experiment. Artists Experiment took the form of long-term collaborations between contemporary artists and the public programs team to present audiences with experimental, unexpected, and thoughtful experiences with art. Through this collaboration, we made Exchange Café.

What was Exchange Café?

– a social space – a participatory artwork – a resource center to consider connected historical and social narratives – an educational lab to discover and contribute new content – a collaborative studio to create value together – a network of people – a barter system to exchange goods and services – a free public space for all

Who was Exchange Café?

Exchange Café was a collaboration between and among all organizers, participants, and contributors. Invited project collaborators and workers led workshops, built a digital platform, made and provided goods and services, designed currency, contributed research, facilitated action and together welcomed the public to be part of a rhizomatic system — wherein each act of exchange produced multiplying possibilities for expanded forms of engagement and production.

How was Exchange Café?

Exchange Café proposed and welcomed visitors to participate with or activate the space. The crux of these interactions examined the ways we define value. The café served tea, milk, and honey to visitors in exchange for currency created by participants. Each currency note was valued by a set of offerings and needs generated by each visitor. As currency was exchanged for tea, a collection of needs and offerings was created. This collection of currency expressed the ways each participant valued both their skills and their needs — setting up both a personal and communal space for exchange between people, goods, and ideas.

Since this project, I have spent time considering the various modes of exchange that exist in my work with others. The chart below illustrates my own thinking about the experience of the café and my current work.




practice has intention

exchange produces value

systems are structures

exchange is a form of communication

value is a collective agreement

production is cooperative

develop new forms of currency

practice internal & external negotiation

embed contingencies

repetition is iterative

exchange rates are contextual

structures make discrete spaces

practice communication

employ porous transactions

make space for humanity

exchange between exchanges

a practice of process

a system of possibilities

Sheetal Prajapati is an educator, artist, and advisor working across the field of art and public engagement. Sheetal is currently on faculty at School of Visual Arts (New York) in the MFA Fine Arts program and works as an advisor and consultant in the field through her agency Lohar Projects. Previously, Sheetal served as the first Director of Public Engagement at Pioneer Works and the Assistant Director of Learning and Artists Initiatives at The Museum of Modern Art.


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