Octane Coffee sat down with Kyle Morais, Founder and Design Director of Argha Noah, to talk about roller coasters, community gardens, and cortados. Here’s what he had to say:
Jess Bernhart: Can you give me your capsule intro to Argha Noah?
Kyle Morais: Argha Noah is an artist-run civic engagement platform that transforms unused urban spaces into pop-up community art spaces. At those community art spaces, we offer programming within five sectors: art, music, education, recreation, and agriculture. And it's run by artists, urbanists, and designers. That's Argha Noah.
JB: How did you come up with the idea? How was this thing born?
KM: Originally, we were thinking about calling this project The Urban Theme Park of the Future.
JB: That’s harder to fit on a flyer.
KM: It is, it is. We had to simplify that. But the reason we’d call it an urban theme park is we were focussed on the model of a fair; how the fair comes in and it's very temporary, but brings all this excitement. It's a new environment for community connection and a wonder for the community that it's within, very fantastical. We wanted to bring that same experience, but make it urban and hands-on and grassroots. Replacing the roller coasters and illusion rides with art installations and community gardens, basketball courts, dinners.
JB: Where does the name come from?
KM: The name stems from the early period of Egypt. The Nile River flooded Egypt annually. Instead of dreading the flood, the Egyptians called it "the coming of new life" because the waters brought fresh nutrients to the crops and communities. So every year they would celebrate the waters, and called the celebration argha noah, and we thought that just had so much synergy with our project – this idea of bringing the native experience back to the people and it being a celebration. Which is why we make 99% of our programming donation-based – because we want everyone to have access to the celebration, to a new way of living in the city.
JB: What has been the most exciting part of the process for you?
KM: The most exciting part? Seeing the growth of the project, and how we attract new people each time to our events. And that people we've met walking around the area who don't have a home or are in transition are starting to work with us. Seeing that when local community members get involved with the project good things really do happen, and that all the energy we were spending trying to fix problems ourselves, we could have been using to meet community members who knew more and could help. That was a lesson well-learned.
JB: What brings you to Octane? Why do you come here? Wi-fi? You can tell me straight. Good air conditioning?
KM: The coffee's great. The people are great. The baristas are really cool. And there are a lot of talented people here. Every time I come here, I'm drawn into a conversation, or see someone I haven't seen in awhile. It feels very family-oriented. For a while, I felt like Octane was its own community that I couldn’t get inside, but once you enter the door and say, “Hey, how you doing, this is who I am,” or you have a cup of coffee and sit down and do some work, you meet someone - it's an open community. I think it's accessible to all types of people. I find that I enjoy getting a cortado here more than anywhere else because I know the people who are making it, and the quality is consistent. It's a creative space, there are drinks. It's multifaceted.
JB: You can transition through your day?
KM: Yes, perfect. It's a great transitional space. We need more of those in this city, and that's why I come here.
JB: Well, I'm convinced. You convinced me.
KM: Nice. Octane!
JB: What would your advice be to somebody who wanted to launch their own idea?
KM: I'd say the best thing to do is write it out. Once you write it out in full, share it with your friends, people you don't know, people you trust. Hear their perspective so you can break it down to the strongest it can be. Then come up with a business plan, or if it's not related to making tons of money but is about social impact, come up with a social impact plan and a timeline. From there, go to different meet-ups, different coffee shops, a central place like Octane. Hang out in those spaces and let people know, “Hey, I'm looking for someone to get involved with this aspect. Could you help me out, or do you know anyone else that could?” Once you have a strong team and a strong idea, find the people who’ve been doing this for a long time. They can give you information, point you in the right direction, make connections… And try to do it on a small scale first. But if you have an opportunity to do something, do it! Doing small projects great is the best advice I've gotten. Just doing it great, documenting it, and using that success as your wing, to get your other wing off the ground and fly elsewhere. So: take the idea. Make sure it's solid. Build a strong team. Test it out. Document. And go for the next one.
JB: What would you change about Octane to improve it?
KM: I would make sure that all the Octanes have events. I think it would really be cool, since Octane is a premier coffee shop and creative space in town, if you were able to do late night hours once a month. It doesn't have to be every day, but once a month you could have the space open late-night, and maybe there's a featured DJ that night or a film, featured musical performance… Also, If Octane had a bookshelf, or partnered with a local bookstore and were able to feature a pop-up book shelf, just a cabinet. a zine library. That way, people could always count on Octane to have a wide range of interesting content. I've been to coffee shops in New York and San Francisco where they have events, where they see coffee shops as more than just a space to come get a cup of coffee, but also as creative space. A unified space, a place where you can have chance meetings. These places are more than just coffee.
JB: How do you drink your coffee? You mentioned a cortado. Is that your drink?
KM: A cortado's my drink, for sure.
JB: Why's that?
KM: I like the minimalism of the drink. And I think I tend to be more careful to not spill my drinks when I have a smaller glass than when I have a mug of coffee – cause I'm skipping like Gene Kelly down the hallway with a mug, spilling everywhere. But a small cup of coffee - it’s just enough. It's the shot I need in the morning, keeps me going for a couple hours before I refuel… And it's great for meetings. Yeah, so that's my drink.
JB: Cortado Man.
KM: Cortado Man!
Follow Argha Noah on Instagram @argha_noah for news, ideas, and upcoming events.