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Trade School: Will Barter for Skills Trade School: Will Barter for Skills

Trade School: Will Barter for Skills

by Amanda M. Fairbanks

February 10, 2010

From now until the first of March, OurGoods, an online barter network, is running a pop-up storefront on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called Trade School, where entry into classes is based not on money or talent, but on meeting the needs of a particular teacher. And while some classes like grant writing and butter making have already filled up, there's still plenty of room to learn more about irrational decision-making and chair-bound pilates, not to mention composting and improvisation.

We asked one of its founders, Caroline Woolard, to shed some light on how Trade School came to be-and potential plans to keep it going.

GOOD: Introduce us to the concept of OurGoods and how it works.

CAROLINE WOOLARD: OurGoods is a barter network for creative people. Members of the OurGoods network barter skills, spaces, and objects, with "haves" and "needs." OurGoods matches barter partners, tracks accountability, and helps the business of independent, creative work. The site can be used to find collaborators, see emerging interests, or just execute projects without cash. For example, I can help you write a grant if you help to make my costumes. OurGoods is a new model for valuing creative work. It fosters interdependence and strong working relationships. You will get your independent work done with mutual respect instead of cash. (Here is a quick visual primer.)

GOOD: Who's running this?

CW: There are five OurGoods co-founders: Jen Abrams, Louise Ma, Carl Tashian, Rich Watts, and me. OurGoods will work because our computer programmer, Carl Tashian, was the senior site engineer at Zip Car for the first five years, answering phone calls in bed until the site made resource sharing ubiquitous; because Jen Abrams has self-produced shows in a collectively run, sweat-equity theater space without cash for a decade; because two of the best designers in NYC (Rich Watts and Louise Ma) have donated hundreds of hours to user interface design and architecture; and because I won't stop until OurGoods is great.

GOOD: How does OurGoods relate to the Trade School?

CW: Artists and designers comprise a transient community, one that's always on the move. In some ways, OurGoods.org is simply a directory of available creative people ready to connect in real space to share skills and head towards a barter negotiation. In-person meetings are incredibly important. This is why we jumped on the opportunity for a five-week storefront on the Lower East Side.

GOOD: So it's shop by day and school by night. How does that work, exactly?

CW: If you teach a class at night, you can share the Trade School space during the day. Trade School is only open to the wider public (as students) at night, so the shared office, or common studio, fosters deeper relationships for Trade School teachers. This day office also encourages enthusiastic students to engage with the Trade School/OurGoods network more fully by teaching a class to spend more time with the group during the day. Everyone has something to share.

GOOD: How did you come up with the idea?

CW: At one point, I wondered: Why can't I get my favorite band to play in my studio? Is cash the only way to pay for a labor of love? I didn't know the band members personally, but hoped we'd have a mutual understanding of the passion and respect that motivates labor. I wanted to work hard for them because I love their work. We decided that they'd play if I gave the lead singer one of my Work Dresses and the guitarist a day of spackling and sanding help in his studio.

GOOD: What has the response been like so far?

CW: The enthusiasm has been shocking. Most classes are full (with waiting lists) and students come from all over the city. I've been asking teachers why they are interested in Trade School, and each teacher refines my understanding of the power of peer learning.

GOOD: Describe the typical participant.

CW: There really is no typical participant. Trade School brings out the multiple identities of creative individuals because classes are based on enthusiasm rather than professionalization or expert knowledge. We've had students from Washington Heights and the West Village, private chefs, art historians, former real estate developers, and vegan dumpster divers. Creative people often live multiple lives.

GOOD: What have you learned that you didn't know how to do beforehand?

CW: People really like fulfilling Trade School teachers' obscure barter requests. Going through a teacher's barter requests (in exchange for a class) allows students to get a sense of who they are. The composting teacher, Amanda Matles, was wooed by a trombone solo, I am getting running shoes in exchange for grant writing, and Emcee C.M., Master of None, received handwritten stories about wildness. People are incredibly thoughtful and responsive. Oh, and I had no idea that I would love organizing a storefront and running public programming. I hope this becomes my paid day job.

Graphic and photo via OurGoods' Flickr stream.

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