Say you want to learn how to sing in harmony, but instead of paying for music class, you pay your teacher with socks. Which don’t even have to match.
Or maybe you’d like to teach people basic photography skills, and will accept any kind of payment so long as it’s in the form of Legos, sharp cheddar, special herbs, cutlery, 90’s hip hop records, general ephemera, or craft beer.
It can happen. In fact, these very exchanges take place every day at Trade School, a pop-up classroom on the L.E.S. that offers eclectic classes (on everything from Baudrillard to composting) for a “price” determined by the teacher. Its Secretary and Principal, Caroline Woolard, is a Bushwick-based, interdisciplinary artist, and the school itself is the physical counterpart of an online bartering network called OurGoods, founded by herself and four creative cohorts from Brooklyn.
Each of the founders–Jen Abrams, Louise Ma, Carl Tashian, Rich Watts and Woolard–arrived at OurGoods through their own experiences in skillsharing. In Woolard’s case, inspiration struck while building out her 8,000-square-foot artists loft two summers ago. “We made a rule that we would teach each other something every day, because things get done faster that way, and it’s nice to learn new things. I realized how much more was possible when you pooled resources,” she says.
The OurGoods network, which is being developed by Watts, Ma, and Tashian, the engineer behind Zipcar’s site, aims to match creative people with “haves” and “needs” online so they can realize their projects and ideas in real life. The projected launch is this spring or summer, but roughly 150 “alpha” users are already testing the sophisticated site, posting skills like grantwriting, available event spaces, and objects they need or want to donate. The site tracks the distance between members, allows you to rate your exchanges, and follow other creatives in the network.
Getting these early adopters in one room was the main reason for opening a school where they could meet, barter by day, and teach the public by night in exchange for almost anything. (One teacher asked to be serenaded, and got a rousing rendition of “My Funny Valentine” on the trombone.) “Barter is about honoring your relationship with another person,” says Woolard. “You need to meet people in real life to find out if you want to work with them–that’s why we created the storefront.”
Of course, BB had to ask why Trade School didn’t set up shop in Brooklyn. The short answer is, the group Grand Opening was the first to pony up the storefont space, which made Trade School’s first term possible. “If someone offered us a space in Williamsburg we’d be interested,” Woolard says, then rethinks that idea. “But then that would divide the South Brooklyn and North Brooklyn creative types.”
There are potential partners on the horizon who will host another session of Trade School, somewhere. Until then, night classes continue through March 1–a few taught by enthusiastic students who propose their own, and wind up gaining early admission to OurGoods.
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