As our skill exchange workshop series wraps up for the year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned through this experience. I started this project with Donna of Pot + Pantry back in August, as a way to explore social skill exchange out in the wider communities of San Francisco, and to test some of the theories and methodology I developed during my MFA thesis work at CCA. The goal of this workshop series has been to encourage self-reliance through social skill exchange, to meet new people, and to have fun.
For me, small and free have been two very important ideals that have at times been difficult to maintain. Why small, why free? Small workshops have been important not just because our workspace is small, but also to help create a safe and supportive atmosphere for everyone involved. Small group workshops are great for conversation and connection, both for the nerves of our sometimes first-time teachers, and for first-time makers who want to ask questions and feel comfortable in a group of similarly-minded strangers. It isn’t easy to admit you are a beginner, you want help, and you are trying something new. Our small workshops have allowed for lots of questions, conversation and connection.
At the end of nearly every workshop, people have stuck around, exchanging emails, business cards, laughs and sharing ideas. There have been emails, meet ups, conversations, dates, parties, dinners and friendships that have sprung up out of our workshops, I kid you not.
All our workshops are free because, very simply put, I believe basic skills should be free.
Hand making skills haven’t always been so scarce or so irregularly practiced, and I think they shouldn’t be reserved for those who can afford to pay and practice them. Finding time to practice a new hand making skill is difficult enough.I’m not against fee-based classes or paid education (hey grad school!) but there are already a lot of barriers which prevent communities from sharing and exchanging skills, and I don’t feel that cost always needs to be part of that equation.
Sure, there is an argument that if we charged a few dollars for every workshop, it would compel people to follow through, and show up to every event. We’d had a few no shows, which can be frustrating when we generally also have a waiting list full of people who want to come to our events. This project isn’t propelled by a monetary goal, and I don’t believe that hand-making skills should be. Skills are valuable, but that value doesn’t have to be attached to a monetary value.
When trying to explain this crazy idea (believe me, everyone questions why something so valuable is free) I always think of an old fashioned barn-raising. Communities came together to help each other build barns, and each neighbor had a different tool or skill to help get the job done. No single person or family could quickly do what a community could do together. In turn, communities took turns and helped each other build barns, sharing skills and knowledge to support each other.
When I talk of self-reliance, I don’t mean to propose that everyone can, and must be canning, cooking, baking, sewing and building everything themselves. It is difficult, it is time-intensive, and I don’t believe it can be sustainable to do it all alone. I do believe self-reliance can be sustainable, practicable, and enjoyable if you can build a community and network of like-minded makers around you, to help share and support your efforts to be more connected to the materials, work, and knowledge necessary to practice healthy, mindful making.
We’ve collaborated with different makers on eight workshops, and have shared skills, ideas, and started new conversations with a much wider audience than we anticipated. Some workshops were more popular than others, but I’ve found that since our first workshop in October, many of our participants have continued to have ongoing conversations with other makers, Donna and myself. I started to recognize a few faces at new events, and have found that some of our participants have come to find us through very different sources. News is spreading beyond our blogs, our friends, and our very local mission community.
I am really excited to continue this workshop series, as well as work to create new opportunities for skill exchange. In the coming weeks/months I will share some new projects I have been invited to participate in that support and encourage the kind of work I find myself most inspired by. I know that these workshops, and the way that I carry out this work may change over time, as I am able to incorporate new goals and ideas into the project.