Conversation series offers connection, safe spaces around Montreal

Joanna Chevalier and Harry Julmice's Never Was Average has gone from grassroots to being backed by the MMFA and Lululemon in just 2 years.

Never Was Average has been working for 2 years to create art, insightful dialogue at monthly events

The entrepreneurs said working 80-hour weeks isn't unusual as their community group gains momentum. 'This is a lifestyle,' Julmice said. (Amy McNeil/Kotn)

Joanna Chevalier and Harold Julmice opened a trendy clothing store in 2013 and soon found people were seeking them out for more than just style.

"Members of our community would ask for advice," Julmice said. "It was the first time they saw two young, black entrepreneurs open a high-level store."

The problem, as they saw it, was that making connections, sharing experiences and learning from other people seemed to not have much space in the city.

They decided they were going to change that.

Two years ago, they started organizing conversations where people could meet and talk openly about issues affecting them.

"Everyone has the same stories, but no one connects them. The talks are therapy," Julmice said.

They founded Never Was Average — an umbrella group that uses numerous creative and community-minded subdivisions to create shared experiences.

Julmice said they wanted to showcase the power of positive representation for Montreal's urban communities.

The monthly conversations covered a different topic each month, but people kept demanding more — so they splintered into three: Le Sisterhood, Le Brotherhood and Le Circle.

During these gatherings, people can share candid parts of their experience in a safe space.

"It's real sisterhood. People link up," Chevalier said.

"Strangers are somehow more comfortable talking to each other than with people who know them well."

Le Brotherhood brings men together for similar conversations, and Le Circle covers all topics.

Early editions cost attendees $10 to cover renting a space and food, but lately, Lululemon has gotten involved and offers its space on Saint-Catherine Street West so the event can be free.

In July, the series has been focusing on positive relationships between the self, loved ones and community.

Hosting conversations is one way Never Was Average creates safe spaces for people to connect — another is through art.

They hold their own exhibitions and established institutions, like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), invite them to collaborate.

The first time their work was at the MMFA was for during the 2018 exhibition From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present.

Julmice called it "an amazing experience" where they welcomed their community of artists to contribute to a counterpoint to Picasso's 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

The two aren't stopping at creating experiences in Montreal — they were in Ottawa last week where they invited the public to a park to help create, and complete, a piece of art.

Julmice said he puts about 80 hours per week into Never Was Average and that it's more than a job or hobby — "It's a lifestyle."

The next Le Cercle is July 21 at Lululemon, located at 1232 Sainte-Catherine Street West.


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