When I moved to Paris six years ago, one of the greatest things that happened to me was meeting Melissa Unger. A fellow New Yorker, Melissa also had French blood and California cool. She was gregarious, generous, genuine, and a little bit wild. She had confidence and grace in equal measure, and very clear convictions along with the ability to articulate them. As our friendship developed over the years, I was witness—more recently, from 3000 miles away, back in New York—to her mining her beliefs to create something pretty amazing, especially for Paris, where the cynics run free.
It started in 2011, when Melissa launched Seymour Projects, a not-for-profit organization committed to helping individuals cultivate self-expression by encouraging them to balance technological stimuli with internal exploration. As of January of this year, it evolved into a physical space called SEYMOUR+. Making good on its founding philosophy, SEYMOUR+ gives the general public a physical place to disconnect from technology and other external distractions in order to reconnect with their imagination and intuition—a spa for the mind, if you will. It’s a concept that is wholly unique and yet totally natural. Here, Melissa shares her journey to opening the most innovative space in Paris.
Why do you think it’s important to encourage self-expression?
For mental health, balance, and well-being. At Seymour, self-expression means taking the time to creatively explore and express your inner landscape, which allows you to reconnect with your imagination and intuition. Connecting with yourself at this primal point is a conduit to the most authentic you. This inventory-taking and creative self-expression helps to “unknot knots” and aids in finding balance, fresh ideas, and new perspectives.
How does your new space in the 10ème aid in this?
Through the SEYMOUR+ space and our other projects, I hope to help people understand that while self-absorption is toxic, self-exploration is salutary. It is as important to take care of your mind and consciousness as it is your body and physical health. We always say we’ll take time for ourselves, but we don’t. We say we’ll take time to protect our mind and fan our inner spirit and creativity, but we don’t. SEYMOUR+ offers the public a space to do exactly that. I believe from the core of my being that if we all took the time for introspection, to nurture our minds, to explore our stunted inner world, to uncover and express our emotions and thoughts in a healthy manner before they festered, we would live more fulfilling, peaceful lives and our global community would be the better for it.
What is the greatest thing about today’s technological landscape? And the worst?
I think the greatest thing is the possibilities it opens. Never before in history has progress advanced so rapidly. Since the advent of the Internet and the introduction of its democratic, free, and open access to information, possibilities for self-expression and self-education have grown exponentially. The ease of communication these new technologies afford us can only be seen as beneficial—“power to the people” has never been closer to being a genuinely true statement.
That said, private interests and capitalism still drive much of the tech landscape, so we must be hyperaware that we are at the risk of being manipulated into unnecessary consumption. A pessimist would tell you that we are as addicted to our smartphones as the previous generation was to cigarettes. In my view, both can be equally toxic. But I don’t wish to demonize technology in any way. As with everything, balance is the key.
Explain how you came up with the five environments at SEYMOUR+.
I wanted to create a space that resonated with me and, as such, would hopefully resonate with others, too. A place that anyone could easily pop into, even just for a half an hour, to explore and express his or her inner landscape. This type of exploration is incredibly interesting and beneficial. Just ask any creative. Artists, musicians, dancers, and others have all found answers and solace in quiet, distraction-free, intuition-based self-expression. With SEYMOUR+, part of my mission is to bring those long-known benefits from the artistic community to the community at large.
All five environments at SEYMOUR+ are derived from various exercises that personally helped me boost creativity, overcome stress, remove psychological blocks, and connect with my core of calm, of inner knowing, of guidance. Because I am a writer and I naturally process thought and emotion by exteriorizing my inner states on paper, I adapted many of the beneficial concepts that I had discovered through personal experience and research into modalities in which pen and paper are your only “tools.”
How have the local Parisians responded to the SEYMOUR+ space and concept?
Both the press and the public have been wildly enthusiastic. To be honest, I didn’t expect it. When I first told people that I was opening a sort of spa for your mind, a tech-free space in which no external distractions were allowed—no books, magazines, etc.—everyone thought I was nuts. But turns it out there’s a great need for a space that slows down time and offers people a break from all of the external distractions incessantly constricting their consciousness. I’ve been given some lovely compliments; the space has been called a “Hope Factory.”
How do you reconcile having an online publication and presence with the space’s mission to balance technological stimuli? What is that balance?
We must all create projects that mesh with the spirit of our times. I happen to be alive and creating during a huge technological revolution, to negate that would be ridiculous. From its earliest inception I have always said loud and clear that Seymour Projects is not anti-technology. In fact, I believe that the increased access to information and heightened connectivity between individuals that the Internet and other tech devices afford us make it a crucial step on humanity’s intellectual and spiritual journey. I am simply seeking to encourage people to adopt a more balanced approach to ensure that technology remains a tool that helps to enhance their life rather than diminish it. It’s up to each individual to decide for themselves what that correct balance is.
When people leave SEYMOUR+, what feeling or inspiration do you want them to take with them? What do you hope it might trigger for a longer-term commitment?
I hope they notice how speedy their lives have become, how much time they spend with their minds locked in active thought, and how exhausting and unproductive that can be. I’d like them to slow down, quiet their minds, find their centers, and remember how to navigate the world from a solid inner-directed core rather than always looking outside themselves for direction and validation.
How do you personally practice self-expression?
Every morning I take a blank piece of paper, and I ask a question and wait for the answer. Who/what I am asking this question of is impossible to express. Is it the Universe? A muse? Inspiration? Imagination? My subconscious … who knows? All I know is that the answer always comes and it’s from somewhere other than my “rational” mind. It’s what artists, poets, writers, and even scientists have done since time immemorial. It’s a wonderful way to start the day. In my view, an expression of creativity is synonymous with self-expression, and because everyone has the inherent right to express themselves, then it would follow as Joseph Beuys famously said: Everyone is an artist.
What is next for Seymour?
I will ask that question during my daily automatic writing exercise tomorrow morning and get back to you with the answer.
SEYMOUR+- 41 boulevard de Magenta, 75010. Tel: +33 (0)1 40 03 81 68
- Find out more about the woman behind Seymour Projects in our interview with Melissa about Paris, its place as a creative hub, and herself.
- The Paris College of Art is directing students toward SEYMOUR+ – read their review of the space here and about intern Nora’s experience with Seymour Projects here.
- In need of a digital detox while on vacation (perhaps in Paris in a beautiful Haven in Paris apartment)? Follow this checklist to ensure your most relaxing vacation since the advent of the digital age.