This May is the launch of a new pop-up classroom for adults in L.A. It’s called Trade School and it’s part of an international network of more than 50 self-organized chapters that offer classes on a variety of topics through a bartering system.
I recently chatted with Trade School L.A.’s lead organizer, Leanne Pedante, over email about how she discovered bartering, why bartering helps people to feel useful, and how Trade School will improve community in L.A.
How did you become interested in bartering and the Trade School?
I first heard about Trade School and the “barter for knowledge” philosophy in 2011. At the time, I was living in Philadelphia and had just joined the OurGoods barter community (the barter organization that led to the creation of Trade School). The timing wasn’t right for me to start a chapter, but it deepened my understanding of bartering as a community-building tool and I knew that I wanted to get involved with Trade School in the future.
Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 and joined the TimeBank network here, continuing my love affair with bartering. When I bartered an illustration in exchange for some tax counseling in late 2013, I realized that the timing to start a Trade School here was perfect. I spoke with the organizers in New York in late January and started putting the Trade School L.A. (TSLA) chapter together in February.
I believe that there are a lot of people who are looking for some, or all, of the things that Trade School provides. Most adults I know want to be able to learn new things without going into debt, they want to have a deeper sense of community, they want to have stronger connections with other people, they want to live a full, rich life without needing a huge paycheck, and they want their skills and knowledge to be useful. I want all of those things, too, which is why I started the L.A. chapter.
What are some of the benefits to bartering?
One is that you get to exercise your trust in people. The teachers who are spending time and energy to plan and teach their classes are doing so with the trust that students will fulfill one of their barter requests. The students who sign up for classes and agree to fulfill a barter request are placing their trust in the teacher and in what they’ll get out of the class. These small expressions of faith and trust in the people in your community ultimately add up to be really meaningful.
Barter also gives people the opportunity to think about value and to examine what has value to them. So many of our teachers said, “OK, I want to teach this class. But what should I ask my students for?” It’s an interesting exercise to think about what non-monetary things you really feel comfortable receiving in exchange for your time, energy, and expertise. Figuring that out can be tough, and requires people to think honestly about what they’re offering and what they truly might want. I think we’re taught to assume that people are selfish and are more comfortable getting than giving, but in my experience it can be much harder for people to ask for something from others.
And, of course, bartering offers an alternative to financial and economic limitations. It’s liberating to feel able to “afford” to give and receive. We live in an economy of scarcity and it’s a relief to barter and alleviate the oppression of feeling restricted by your income.
Do you believe that bartering can lead to an improved sense of community in L.A.?
Absolutely! And, really, in L.A., where the running joke is about never wanting to drive 10 miles to the other side of town, who doesn’t want a better sense of community?
Bartering tends to engage different social “muscles” than those needed to buy something from Target. You get a chance to meet and see value in people who may exist outside your normal social circle. You get to have people rely on you and practice showing up for your end of the bargain. You get to practice trusting “strangers” and explore how collaboration and cooperation really works for you. There is huge value in people and communities practicing all of these things.
I really believe that one thing most people want very badly is to feel useful. And, on an individual level, bartering lets people feel useful, as well as happier, more valued, and less lonely.
On a larger scale, I also believe that positive things can come from a community where people place value on each other, and when people don’t feel oppressed by fear of scarcity. We get better communities when people feel more invested in them, in their role within that community, and in the people around them.
Who are the teachers for TSLA and what can people expect from the classes?
Our teachers come from all over L.A. and all have different backgrounds. A number of our teachers, like Kathryn who’s teaching “Acrylic & Watercolor Painting,” have taught in traditional classrooms before. Others, myself included, may not have taught in a classroom before, but have a craft or practice that they’re passionate about and want to share.
Most classes are 1-3 hours long, and will have an average of 8-15 students. TSLA does not own a classroom or building, so classes are hosted in a variety of locations all over the city and are often set in non-traditional (i.e., non-classroom) environments. We’ll have classes hosted at HM157 art collective in Lincoln Heights, Chin’s Push art gallery in Highland Park, on a patio behind Kaldi Coffee in Atwater Village, Spirit Art Studio in Silverlake, in the backyard of Paniolo Productions in Palms, at the reDiscover Center in Santa Monica, in parks, and in people’s home studios and living rooms.
What’s one class you’re really looking forward to?
Well, first, let me say that I am incredibly excited about every single class and am going to take as many as physically possible. The “Beginner Conversational Spanish” class is one that I’m personally interested in because learning Spanish is something that’s been lingering on my to-do list for too long. Lucy, the teacher, is hosting the class in her home in Echo Park, and it will be a project-based immersion class. Everyone will bring two lemons and will go through the entire class speaking only Spanish. We’ll all be making lemonade, while learning basic terms, verbs, and tenses needed to work together in a kitchen. I love the idea of strangers coming together to take a class in their teacher’s kitchen, and of people gaining practical skills while also drinking lemonade together.
How can people get involved?
You can sign up to attend a TSLA class this May through our website.
Everyone should come meet our TSLA teachers, students, and organizers at our kickoff party on Sunday, April 27 (invitation above).
Ana Ottman is a writer living in Los Angeles.