Toronto's inaugural edition of Trade School lets you leave the cash at home and barter for your knowledge.
If you like your learning alternative, accessible, and sans homework, you’d be wise to check out Trade School Toronto, a temporary school where tuition is paid the old-fashioned way: by barter. It will run in six different downtown locations for five days, starting this Saturday.
The program is modelled on the Trade School franchise (not to be confused with plain-old trade school, with a lowercase “t” and “s”), which operates in about 20 cities worldwide. Toronto’s version has been put together by a group of local artists and community organizers. It will feature 29 diverse public workshops, each two hours or less in length. Upon registering for a class online, participants choose from a list of the teacher’s requested barter items—ranging from food to furniture to a massage. They commit to providing one of those items or services in exchange for the education or skills they’ll receive.
Nico Koenig, a community organizer who is one of the event’s architects, said the series marks Canada’s first (official) Trade School. It got underway when the organizers of Trade School New York connected Koenig and a friend to two women from Toronto’s That’s Women’s Work Art Network, who were similarly interested in launching the event here.
“We kind of just banded together,” he said, explaining that the purpose of Trade School is threefold.
“It’s a way of building community…[and] also to show there are different, accessible ways people can learn that don’t result in a certificate or degree at the end. Thirdly, we’re offering an alternative way that people can exchange value. You’re still paying for the courses, in a sense, but with things you might already have around the house, or knowledge you already have.”
The classes run the gamut, from expected hippie staples (“Vegan Gluten-Free Cooking,” “Simplify Your Life with DIY Natural Body Products”), to the sensible (“Finances 101,” “Introduction to Excel”), to the political (“Tar Sands and Environmental Justice,” “Resisting Mentalism: Becoming an Ally to People and the Consumer/Surivivor Society”).
And while the organizers initially recruited teachers from among their friends, and friends of friends, Koenig said they were conscious of being as broad and inclusive as possible. “We were trying to make sure we weren’t just thinking about what classes somebody in their 20s or 30s would be interested in. We wanted to reach out to different groups; that’s why we have a course on seniors’ health, and one offered by a 13-year-old.”
Because the organizers aren’t willing to pay for space, their biggest challenge has been securing venues for the workshops. All their current locations were donated by owners who either liked the idea of Trade School or were interested in animating their spaces. (“For example, an art gallery that wouldn’t normally be open Monday nights gets an opportunity to open up and show off their artwork,” Koneig said.)
In keeping with the intended spirit of the event, he and his fellow organizers have been open to bartering in exchange for space—within reason. “Some places wanted, like, 20 hours of floor cleaning.”
This was not considered reasonable.
The hope is that Trade School Toronto will become a regular event, and Koenig believes the concept has serious potential. “It’s an accessible idea and it transfers pretty quickly; I wouldn’t be surprised if this caught on to a number of cities across Canada.”