THE PURPLE THISTLE CENTRE
In 2001 I founded the Purple Thistle Centre in with seven teenage friends looking to start an alternative-to-school community institution for youth on the Eastside of Vancouver. We were looking to start a new kind of place – not a school or youth centre or college or studio, but something else entirely.
The pack of us were sitting around my kitchen table trying to figure out what this place might look like and eventually I asked what they were doing when they were happiest, when they were thriving. They started talking about painting, writing, making films, building websites, sculpting, publishing zines, performing their poetry and spoken word, making comics : being creative. So we figured – lets start a place to do that.
So we did, and it blossomed/exploded into a major and many tentacled thing. It really was a piece of work. We ran a 2500 sq/ft resource centre that has a ton of supplies, tools, materials, classes and workshops, and was all free. We ran some giant and beautiful gardens that we built on unused industrial land around the centre. There was a library, bike fixing shop, computer lab, silkscreening room, animation facility and lots else. And maybe best of all, the whole thing was run by a youth collective that controlled all the day-day operations and really ran the place. Sadly, it closed in 2015 after 15 years. Its time had come.
In 2011 we began to investigate other kinds of pedagogical approaches by running the Purple Thistle Institute, a three-week gathering titled RADICAL SOCIAL CHANGE FROM BELOW.
It was something like an alternative university, or maybe better: an alternative-to-university. The idea was to bring together a bunch of engaged, interested people to talk about theory, ideas and practise for radical social change. The conversations deliberately cut across radical orientations – anarchists, socialists, lefties, progressives, anti-colonialists, anti-authoritarians, ecologists were all welcome. The idea was to work, think and talk together – to articulate and comprehend differences sure – but to find common ground, get beyond factionalized pettiness and stimulate radical ecological and egalitarian social change.
It went great: three weeks of classes in the morning from folks like Astra Taylor, Cecily Nicholson, Carla Bergman, Am Johal, Geoff Mann and Glen Coulthard, then community workplacements in the afternoon, then events, films, parties and beaches in the evenings. It was a terrific time and gave us all kinds of new ideas for organizing.
Now a group of folks has taken that momentum, holds regular events and discussions, and is hosting a Social Spaces Summit.