Interview with Caroline Woolard

February 15th 2010

Interview with Caroline Woolard

I first came across Caroline Woolard’s name months ago when a friend in New York sent me information about various artists and projects he thought I would be interested in. I have to admit, although I found it interesting at the time, I completely forgot about it. However last month I she was recommended to me again, by an artist I had contacted about this project. I figured if someone is recommended twice then they are definitely worth checking out. So with her name now firmly lodged in my brain, I got in touch. Amidst the chaos of organizing and running multiple projects, Woolard kindly took some time out to answer a few questions for me.

ourgoods

IS: Can you explain a bit about how OurGoods works? Who is behind the project?

CW: OurGoods is a barter network for creative people. Members of the OurGoods network barter skills, spaces, and objects, organizing creative projects with “haves” and “needs.” OurGoods matches barter partners, tracks accountability, and helps the business of independent, creative work. The site can be used to find collaborators, see emerging interests, or just execute projects without cash. For example, I can help you write a grant if you make my costumes. OurGoods is a new model for valuing creative work. It fosters interdependence and strong working relationships. You will get your independent work done with mutual respect instead of cash.

There are five OurGoods co-founders: Jen Abrams, Louise Ma, Carl Tashian, Rich Watts, and myself. OurGoods works because our computer programmer, Carl Tashian, was the senior site engineer at

Zip Car for the first five years, answering phone calls in bed until the site made resource sharing ubiquitous; because Jen Abrams has self-produced shows in a collectively run, sweat-equity theater space without cash for a decade; because two of the best designers in NYC (Rich Watts and Louise Ma) have donated hundreds of hours to user interface design and architecture; and because I won’t stop until OurGoods is great.

ourgoods

IS: Your latest project ‘Trade School’ encourages artists and designers to trade skills and services, and gives a site for these interactions, creating a hub of creative and non-monetary exchange.   Can you tell me a bit more about how Trade School works and how it relates to OurGoods?

CW: The virtual component of OurGoods is necessary because artists and designers comprise a transient community, always on the move. In some ways, OurGoods.org is simply a directory of available creative people ready to connect in real space to share skills and head towards a barter negotiation. In-person meetings are incredibly important. This is why we jumped on the opportunity for five week storefront in the Lower East Side.

Running from January 25th to March 1st, the space is called Trade School and will help OurGoods members get to know each other while sharing resources: the space is for co-working by day and sharing skills by night.

Trade School allows a generous and rigorous creative community to grow organically. If you teach a class at night, you can share the Trade School space during the day. Trade School is only open to the wider public (as students) at night, so the shared office, or common studio, fosters deeper relationships for Trade School teachers. This day office also encourages enthusiastic students to engage with the Trade School/OurGoods network more fully by teaching a class to spend more time with the group during the day. Everyone has something to share.

IS: How did Trade School come about?

CW: I must say that the idea is less important than its realization. Jen Abrams and I met because we were both talking about a resource sharing site for artists, but OurGoods only became possible when it collided with Rich, Louise, and Carl. Concepts are embedded in form, and the idea took life when the five co-founders committed to developing it.

At one point, I wondered: Why can’t I get my favorite band to play in my studio? Is cash the only way to pay for a labor of love? I didn’t know the band members personally, but hoped we’d have a mutual understanding of the passion and respect that motivates labor. I wanted to work hard for them because I love their work. We decided that they’d play if I gave the lead singer one of my Work Dresses and the guitarist a day of spackling and sanding help in his studio.

Creative thinker-makers often work for free, expanding the public imagination while trafficking in a murky labor-value exchange. Rather than complain about limited funding and access to resources, OurGoods shows that we already have a lot as a creative community. What happens we have the agency to decide what our objects and skills are worth? Let’s find out by building a network of interdependence around creative projects.

Trade School

IS: How has this project been received so far?  Who is getting involved with the project?

CW: The enthusiasm I sense is shocking. Most classes are full (with waiting lists) and students come from all over the city. I’ve been asking teachers why they are interested in Trade School, and each teacher refines my understanding of the power of peer learning.

There is no typical participant. Trade School brings out the multiple identities of creative individuals because classes are based on enthusiasm rather than professionalization or expert knowledge. At the beginning of each class I say, “If you’d like to teach a class, talk to me later.” I could teach classes about mushrooms, conceptual furniture, grant writing, or running an LLC. Teachers become students and vice versa. We’ve had students from Washington Heights and the West Village, future forecasters from Nokia, private chefs, art historians, former real estate developers, and vegan dumpster divers, but I’m sure there’s one person who is a former real estate developer, vegan dumpster diving, private chef and art historian. Creative people often live multiple lives.

Trade School

IS: How did you go about getting funding for the project?

Rich Watts bartered design work with Grand Opening in exchange for the storefront space we’re using for Trade School. Grand Opening collaborated with us on the design for Trade School and has been instrumental in helping us broaden our reach.

OurGoods received $15,000 through The Field’s Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists grant and $1,500 from the Brooklyn Arts Council for outreach. With five co-founders working on OurGoods for over a year, however, most of the OurGoods labor is not remunerated in cash. We will benefit from using OurGoods, but as an infrastructure for mutualism, it is an act for the commons, so we need to barter with the commons. This is an ongoing dilemma for us and many open source people. How do we support public works today?

The site will eventually have a point system (an online currency to assist indirect barters) that could pay individuals who work for OurGoods, but the point system cannot exist without a robust network and a communal acknowledgement of the site’s value. Just as our national currency only works because we all agree to use it, we cannot implement a point system until a community of trust is established.

IS: What have you learned during the Trade School experience?

CW: People really like fulfilling Trade School teachers’ obscure barter requests. I think going through a teacher’s barter requests (in exchange for a class) allows students to get a sense of who they are. The Composting teacher, Amanda Matles, was wooed by a Trombone solo, I am getting running shoes for Grantwriting, and Emcee C.M., Master of None, received handwritten stories about wildness. People are incredibly thoughtful and responsive.

I had no idea that I would love organizing a storefront and running public programming. I hope this becomes my paid day job!

Trade School