Skillsharing – A New Way of Learning

Goodlifer: Skillsharing - A New Way of Learning

How often have you seen a friend do something impressive and told them “Dude! You have to teach me that!” (or something to that effect)? The best way to learn is through friends, teachers or mentors, and we all probably know how to do something really well.

Skillsharing is a new movement of freestanding weekend events featuring workshops and classes, taught by regular people who happen to be really good at, or possess deep knowledge about, something. One of the main principles is the belief that information should be free and widely available. Skillsharers believe learning is plentiful, everywhere, and need not come with price tags or expert degrees. We are all teachers. We are all students.

This weekend, I attended the Brooklyn Skillshare, held at Gowanus Studio Space, a nonprofit providing space, equipment and support to emerging designers, artists and craftspeople. The event was funded in part through crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, where 35 donors helped raise the $1200 needed to pay for event expenses. Attendees were encouraged to contribute a $10 donation, the event was otherwise free of charge (including free lunch).

Skillsharers outside Gowanus Studio Space.

Skillsharers outside Gowanus Studio Space.

The plan for the Brooklyn Skillshare began to take shape in the Spring of 2009 when organizer Meg Wachter attended the Boston Skillshare, and was inspired by the free weekend workshops. The Brooklyn event was organized by an all-volunteer team of Brooklyn residents and is a community based, community led, community creating learning event. Wachter said the event was very much a success, with around 400 people in attendance throughout the day. The organizers of the Boston Skillshare even showed up, something Wachter thought was very useful for sharing notes on what worked great and what could be improved for next time.

Brooklyn Skillshare organizer Meg Wachter teaching a Kombucha workshop. Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

Brooklyn Skillshare organizer Meg Wachter teaching a Kombucha workshop. Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

The latest Boston Skillshare was held at MIT on April 18 & 19, and attracted over 600 people. Workshops ran the gamut of simple and straightforward, like Time Management, Yoga for Children and Young Adults, and Basic Bicycle Mechanics, to practical, like Everyday Knots, Home-Brewing Kombucha, Natural Cures for Seasonal Allergies, and Simple Solar, to the extreme, such as Wild Carrot as a Natural Method of Contraception, Lesbian Dating 101 (and 102!), Connecting a Wii Remote to a PC, and (the aptly named) WTF does my camera do?

WTF does my camera do? workshop at the Boston Skillshare.

WTF does my camera do? workshop at the Boston Skillshare.

Simple Solar workshop with George at the Boston Skillshare.

Simple Solar workshop with George at the Boston Skillshare.

Skillsharing is a growing movement, and more and more events seem to be popping up in different cities. The earliest one I came across was held in Albany in 2005, with workshops including Wool Spinning, Seed Saving, Fermentation, Trapeze and Turntablism. Skillshare Austin was a two-weekend event held last summer, where people learned low tech tattoo, kite making, anarchist baby care, and sauerkraut making skills.

On a global level, skillshare.org works toward creating “a world without poverty, injustice and inequality where people, regardless of cultural, social and political divides, come together for mutual benefit, living in peaceful co-existence.” The organization aims to accomplish this by “sharing and developing skills and ideas, facilitating organizational and social change and building awareness of development issues.” If you haven’t watched The Girl Effect, do so now. Skills and knowledge are incredibly powerful tools to bring people out of poverty (in case of us fortunate first-worlders, it may just bring us out of a rut).

Basic Raw Food Workshop with Karen Yacobucci at the Brooklyn Skillshare. Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

Basic Raw Food Workshop with Karen Yacobucci at the Brooklyn Skillshare. Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

At the Brooklyn Skillshare, the first class I attended was Basic Raw Food Preparation: the Art of “Uncooking” taught by Karen Yacobucci, a Medical Librarian at the NYU School of Medicine and a devoted raw foodist. After a brief introduction to the basic tenets of raw food, Yacobucci prepared three simple recipes while talking about her personal experience with the diet. Good reasons to eat raw: you’ll look hot, feel ridiculously happy and healthy, and your body will have a much easier time transporting food properly through your system.

Happy Raw Food workshop attendees at the Brooklyn Skillshare. Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

Happy Raw Food workshop attendees at the Brooklyn Skillshare. Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

Main pieces of advice: buy a food processor (almost all raw food recipes will require one), get a good sharp knife (it will make food prep much easier and more fun), and buy the best quality food you can afford (fresh, organic and unprocessed is always best). Carry a pocket guide (or download the iPhone app) that lists the Dirty Dozen — foods you should always buy organic because of their high pesticide content (even after being washed). She made it all look very easy and doable, and the recipes were delicious. I am definitely considering adding some more raw components to my diet, and am placing an order for a food processor today.

Natural Jewelry Casting workshop with Timothy Gasbarro at the Brooklyn Skillshare.

Natural Jewelry Casting workshop with Timothy Gasbarro at the Brooklyn Skillshare.

A basic ring. At this point it's more important to have the two soldering ends meet up perfectly than to have a round shape.

A basic ring. At this point it’s more important to have the two soldering ends meet up perfectly than to have a round shape.

Ring with beancast shape done in the class. Example of more substantial bean casting.

Left: Ring with beancast shape done in the class. Right: Example of more substantial bean casting.

I also attended Natural Jewelry Casting, taught by Timothy Gasbarro. I have always wanted to learn how to make jewelry, and I had very much looked forward to this workshop. I was a bit put off by all the scary-looking tools one needs in order to cast and work with silver, but definitely got some insight into the process. It’s probably safe to say that silversmithing is one of those skills one can not learn in an hour and a half. However, we got a fun demonstration on how to go about heating up silver and doing bean casting (pouring the melted silver into a can full of beans to create shapes), and shaping a ring from a piece of cut silver. When I get an apartment with that coveted garage/studio space, I will definitely invest in some jewelry making equipment, until then, I will dream of melted scrap silver and Crème brûlée torches.

The Bicycle Mechanics 101 class at the Brooklyn Skillshare was packed. Having your bike break down on the street far from home: annoying. Being able to fix it on the spot: incredibly empowering! Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

The Bicycle Mechanics 101 class at the Brooklyn Skillshare was packed. Having your bike break down on the street far from home: annoying. Being able to fix it on the spot: incredibly empowering! Photo by edlabdesigner, Creative Commons.

Start sharing your skills now. Find out if there are any Skillshare events planned in your area, or gather some friends together and arrange one yourself. Knowledge is power, skill enables.

See more photos from the Brooklyn Skillshare here.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. What a fabulous idea, looks like incredible fun with so many options to choose from…mmm, wonder if i could put something together like this in Marin, I’ll keep you posted. M.

  2. Hi Johanna. I Just wanted to let you know about another similar initiative: The Bank of Common Knowledge project (http://www.bankofcommons.org) running since 2006. A platform for knowledge exchange and mutual education, Check full interview and videos about this Barcelona based initiative brought to you by platoniq.net on the we-make-money-not-art blog:
    http://www.we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2008/06/-you-set-up-a-1.php
    Regards fron Barcelona

  3. a little extra background: the boston skillshare dates all the way back to 2002. the first one took place in april of that year, at mass art. the albany event you mention in 2005 was organized by folks who had attended a previous boston event. & the boston event was inspired by a skillshare weekend event that took place in berkeley (at gilman st., an all ages punk venue) in may 2000.

  4. also wanted to note that ‘skillshare.org’ is not at affiliated with boston skillshare or skillshare austin both of which are independant, collectively organized projects. we don’t really know anything about ‘skillshare.org’ except that it comes up when you search for us 🙂

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