It’s funny how the practices of the past can become the novel concepts of the present. Organic diets and local farming, for example, once the basis of ancient civilization, are viewed today as trendy, modern lifestyles. Similarly, bartering has returned as a promising economic model that could positively impact how we acquire skills. Caroline Woolard recognized such potential when she co-founded Trade School, an educational space that runs on barter. Anyone can teach a class, and students pay with artwork, food, or whatever skill they can offer to the instructor.
“The monetary system is failing people in a global way… lots of social services from health to education to arts are getting cut all over the world and people feel that some things just don’t work in a market economy,” says Woolard in an interview with Shareable. Woolard adds that the goal is to spread this model internationally — anyone can start a Trade School. Custom-built software is provided to help each school manage their classes, giving organizers the freedom to organize the unique principles by which they function. “In Oakland they are explicit about this being a project for educational justice because it is too expensive to get access to information,” explains Woolard. “In other places they want to do it to meet people who are really interested in sharing ideas.”
Artists and thinkers are often asked to work for free, or face the frustrating challenge of determining their own labor-value scale. Trade School provides a space where creators can draw from each other’s talent, defining their own ideas of what a good or service is worth. “Rather than complain about limited funding and access to resources, [it] shows that we already have a lot as a creative community,” says Woolard. “What happens if we have the agency to decide what our objects and skills are worth?”
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.