Trade School

Create an alternative learning community to share skills and talents in your community.

5 Step Guide to

Trade School


Trade School "Welcome to the Trade School guide. This guide has been compiled with the collective knowledge and experience of a number of Trade School organisers in different parts of the world. Every Trade School is different but we hope that this will help you get started and avoid some of the mistakes we made when starting out. It's a fun and rewarding experience so enjoy it and let us know if you need help along the way!" - Brittany West, Trade School

5 Steps

Who? Someone who...

Resource Checklist


Volunteers usually commit about 10 hours a month to running a successful Trade School.

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Trade School is a learning experiment where teachers barter with students. We place equal value on big ideas, practical skills, and experiential knowledge.


Everyone has something to offer. Trade School is not free—we believe in the power of non-monetary value.


Trade School runs on mutual respect. We are motivated by integrity, not coercion. We are organized without hierarchy. We share power and information. We are actively working to create safe spaces for people and ideas. Our organisation is always learning and evolving

Trade School is a non-traditional learning space that runs on barter. Anyone can teach a class. Students sign up by agreeing to meet the barter requests of teachers. On the day of class, students and teachers gather in a space that is made available by Trade School organizers. In New York, we make our own furniture, cook food in the space, and serve tea to welcome people. Students give barter items to the teacher, and class begins.


Trade School celebrates hands on knowledge and experience. It is a place to learn with other people who value practical wisdom, mutual aid, and the social nature of exchange.

Local Trade School chapters open whenever a group of volunteers decide to organise one collectively and hopefully this is now you!

Here's a snapshot of some of the classes that take place on one day in a Trade School:


Recruit Volunteers

Starting and running a Trade School will be much easier and a lot more fun if you do it with some like-minded friends and volunteers.

With a team of 3/4 people, each person usually commits to approximately 10 hours a month which makes it manageable for everyone. The primary tasks that need to be carried out by volunteers will include building awareness, recruiting teachers, finding a suitable venue and attending Trade School when it's on to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Maybe you already have friends in mind or you need to find some. Once they're committed to the vision of Trade School and are willing to give a couple of hours a week

Find a Location

We’ve found that with limited volunteers/staff, it’s best to have a space that can be reached by the public directly- a public space, storefront or basement is ideal. If you have to direct people from the street to meander through a space, you will need more volunteers every night and you may find out that more students are lost in the building than you want to deal with. The other nice thing about being close to the street is that you can attract local students and teachers who haven’t heard about Trade School online. We like to create our own space, because existing independent from institutions allows the group to build its culture and bring Trade School to larger institutions for special events only.

Trade School started because we were given use of a storefront (Rich Watts had done design work for a group that couldn’t pay him, so he asked to be paid via use of their storefront). We didn’t know what to do with the space, but after a wild brainstorm session about many possible barter storefronts, we decided that “barter for instruction” and a barter school had a lot of potential. We have done special events with the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Art and Design, but only after we had a gathering of people who knew that we were truly about mutual aid and not just big, flashy education-entertainment (as the museum events can feel if you don’t have a context outside of the museum for your community of people to get to know each other). After the first year, so many people were excited about Trade School that we decided to try to open again. No one would barter with us in exchange for a storefront the second year, so we ran a Kickstarter campaign ( and raised money for rent and materials. That felt a little weird (many students ended up donating money and giving barter items to teachers), and we had a bad relationship with the landlord we were renting from. We hope we don’t ever have to ask for so much money again, but if you absolutely cannot find space and need to rent some, go for it! We have found that even in NYC, there are enough spaces with empty areas for us to exist on surplus and gifting of space (rather than renting). When landlords donate space to us they also demonstrate that they are aligned with our values- people who are interested in sharing excess capacity, not turning as much as possible into something for sale.

Here are some things to consider:

Where will you be located and what are the demographics of the neighborhood?

Who are the students, teachers, and participants that you hope to engage?

What are some of the challenges faced by people in the area?

Will you have a space to do the dishes like a slop sink?

Can you get a key to the space?

What are the hours you can access the space?

Does the space want to censor your classes?

Do they want their brand involved directly?

Spread the Word

Where can you find teachers? You probably already know people who are great storytellers, who give tours, who teach their children, or who are professors who want to share information in a new setting. They probably just need a little bit of encouragement to set up and teach a class. For the first few classes, you will probably have to invite people. Ask people who will open Trade School with excitement- people who can speak to a range of topics, demonstrate a range of approaches to learning (from workshops to tours), and/or who know a lot of people. The first few classes should spread the word, set the tone, and create a standard of rigor and generosity.

When we first opened Trade School, we spent the month before we opened asking people we knew if they wanted to teach. We invited a range of good story tellers and radical educators: a mushroom expert and forager who wrote the Audobon Field Guide (Gary Lincoff), a woman with an MBA and an MFA who taught “Business for Artists” (Amy Whitaker), a singing enthusiast (Laura Harris), a master composter (Amanda Matles), and an arts festival producer (Chloe Bass). These people each invited their friends to come to their class, and many of their students became teachers who then invited more friends to their class. This is how it spread- word of mouth, emails, and links to our website.

Selecting teachers

We do not select teachers or turn potential teachers away. We ask for proposals so that we know what people want to teach, but we accept 99% of teachers. If there are any issues with the proposal, we give feedback and work with teachers to improve the class. We want to give everyone a chance to share what they know.

For special events (like when/if we work with museums and places with big PR and large audiences), where we can only fit a few classes in one night and lots of people want to teach, we take proposals for and give priority to people who have put in a lot of time to make Trade School work. For example, we give teaching priority to people who have donated food or cooked for us, people who repeatedly taught amazing classes on our regular schedule, and to people who both share information as teachers and learn as students at Trade School.

Organizing, publicity and funding

In the Full Guide , you can find more information on ongoing organising, raising small amounts of funding (if necessary) and ongoing publicity.