Trade School celebrates practical wisdom, mutual respect, and the social nature of exchange.

Trade School 2011, shot and edited by David Felix Sutcliffe.

Trade School’s Kickstarter campaign video from 2010, shot and edited by Alex Mallis.


We document our classes and programs at our Flickr. These are some highlights from classes in 2010:


“I am very interested in your work and your pedagogic experiments.”
Pablo Helguera, Director of Adult and Academic Programs at the Education Department of MoMA

“What a wonderful project!”
Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift

“I’d like to advocate what you’re doing.”
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Life Inc.

“I want to support Trade School in every way I can.”
Amy Whitaker, MBA and MFA

Our Wonderful Volunteers

  • Athena Kokoronis
  • Gaurabh Mathure
  • Elsa Hwang
  • Prudence Katze
  • Alex Mallis
  • Christhian Diaz
  • Aimée Lutkin
  • Kate Cahill
  • Tracy Candido

Past Press

About Trade School

How did it start? Where did you come up with the idea?

It all started because three of the five co-founders of OurGoods (Louise Ma, Rich Watts, Caroline Woolard) were given an opportunity to work with GrandOpening, and we had a wild brainstorm session about many possible barter storefronts. We decided that “barter for instruction” had a lot of potential.

So, from February 25th to March 1st, 2010, we ran Trade School at GrandOpening in the Lower East Side. Over the course of 35 days, more than 800 people participated in 76 single session classes. Classes ran for 1, 2, or 3 hours and ranged from scrabble strategy to composting, from grant writing to ghost hunting. In exchange for instruction, teachers received everything from running shoes to mixed CDs, from letters to a stranger to cheddar cheese. We ran out of time slots for teachers to teach and classes filled up so quickly that we had to turn people away. This made us think, “we should keep doing this!”

Why did you get involved?

Louise Ma: I’m interested in an open forum where theoretical and technical investigations can co-exist, where low-brow and high-concept can cross-pollinate. I’m for an environment where people are brought together by the passionate interests they share with their peers.

Saul Melman:

Richard Watts: (Rich was too busy developing this website to write down why he got involved. But when he emerges from all the code he will write something hopefully.)

Caroline Woolard: I am involved because I want to encourage cooperation and discussion about value. Trade School demonstrates that value is subjective, and that New Yorkers ARE interested in supporting one another. Where else will you find a teacher’s knowledge (the class) right next to the teacher’s wish list (the barter items)? Trade School is a small part of the solidarity economy- economic practices that reinforce values of mutualism, cooperation, social justice, democracy, and ecological sustainability. I hope Trade School allows mutual respect to emerge between people. With mutual respect, anything is possible.

How much work is it?

The first time (2010), everyone contributed time and materials to support the communities that value cooperation over competition. Rich Watts bartered design work for GrandOpening’s storefront space and help conceptualizing Trade School. Louise Ma and Rich Watts designed the website and Caroline Woolard coordinated with teachers to make the class schedule. We made a weatherproof flag, bucket furniture, hook-filled shelving, and a huge chalkboard. Incredibly rigorous, creative thinkers gave time to Trade School from day one.

This time (2011), we wanted to open Trade School for longer than a month, and needed to raise money to pay for rent because we couldn’t find anyone who would barter with us for a three month rental in Manhattan. We raised money on Kickstarter, and after a LOT of searching and discussion with various venues, we were approached by Old School at 32 Prince. It’s an old classroom in Nolita, so it’s perfect. Saul Melman joined our team as well, helping to coordinate and conceptualize the project. We also have a handful of generous volunteers, and more enthusiastic teachers and students than ever.

How does OurGoods relate to Trade School?

OurGoods.org is a barter network for creative people. Three of the five co-founders of OurGoods jumped at an opportunity to barter for storefront space in February 2010, and Trade School began. But Trade School is just one of many possible barter spaces for face to face interaction. What about a barter movie theater, a barter restaurant, or a barter clinic?

Trade School helps OurGoods because, in some ways, OurGoods.org is just a directory of creative people who are ready to connect in real space to begin a barter negotiation. In-person meetings are incredibly important. For example, how do I know whether or not you are actually good at what you say you’re good at? What if I want to trade with you simply because you’re cool? I won’t know how I feel about you until we meet in person. Trade School is a way for members of OurGoods to meet people who are interested in barter. It’s a community of people who are open to alternative exchange where dialog and transaction MAY emerge, but where class instruction remains the focus.

Do you have any advice to people who want to start their own Trade School?

At the moment, the software we use to coordinate Trade School barters is not ready to be shared. We are trying to get a grant to develop that software. Until then, you should come and visit us in NYC to get a sense of how the space feels, what the classes are like, and how to organize/run events.

We emphasize:

  • Practical Skills (action over abstraction, enthusiasm over experts)
  • Reciprocity (everyone has something to share: anyone can teach, everyone can ‘afford’ the barter because it includes labor)
  • Rigor + Humility (unempowering and empowering work for all)
  • Community Space (share food/tea, make furniture, you know the organizers because we are sitting in class with you)

How we work:

  • Design for the community you are part of (it’s easy to make bad decisions if they don’t effect you) [at the end of school we met with all our students/teachers]
  • Work in a Small Group (each person added to the group doubles the amount of time it takes to make a decision. ex: 6 people for Trade School, but really 3 people plus students/teachers)
  • Your idea/experience is as good as the web interface that connects people to it (18,000 people looked at TS in 35 days, which translates to 800 coming through the door in 35 days)

More questions? Email us at tradeschool@ourgoods.net.