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Antiuniversity Now: The non-institute for wider learning

Antiuniversity Now: The non-institute for wider learning

Today sees the start of the fourth – and final – year of the free education event as it commemorates 50 years since its namesake mounted a famous challenge to academic hierarchies.

The week-long series of free, self-organised classes has nearly trebled in size over its run and this year has a bewilderingly huge array of events, covering everything from  museum navigation and how to make radio shows to gaming and rent strikes.

Freedom caught up with organiser Shiri Shalmy, with Emma Winch one of the two organisers of Antiuniversity Now:

This is your fourth year of doing anti-university, do you reckon you’ve got a good handle on it?

Emma and I have been organising the Antiuni since we founded it in 2015. We never thought we’d do it more than once and, to be honest, never imagined that even the first festival will have more than 5-6 events. It had 60!

We developed the systems to coordinate and promote the festival as it grew from 60 to a 150 events mega-fest. It’s a lot of work and every year around March we brace ourselves for the stream of ideas, requests, proposals and offers to collaborate that flood our inbox.

The mission for next year is to somehow consolidate all the experience we developed and the systems we created in order to share it with whoever wants to start – or continue – their own Antiuni.

1968 is the 50th anniversary of the original anti-university, are you doing anything special to mark that?

On the actual anniversary of the 1968 Antiuniversity of London, Rosalie Schweiker and I took a bunch of students to recreate the famous Antiuniversity door on 49 Rivington Street. The building now hosts a cats cafe (!) and some design shop, pretty much the antithesis to the Antiuni.

We used the photocopier at the Barbican public library and some wallpaper paste and re-installed the door where it once belonged, in a symbolic intervention to reclaim the space back.

That week we also published our Antiuni Reader – a collaborative resource of anarchist and radical education literature, compiled collectively with our friends and comrades. Anyone can add books to the list by messaging us.

From the start AU has tended to be London-based with some events elsewhere. Would there be the possibility of similar happening in other parts of the country in future years?

There have always been more events in London, partly because this is where we – and our initial networks – are based but also because it seems to be a bit easier to organise in a big city, where there are lots of available pubic venues and an active community. However, we are always excited when people submit events in places we’ve never been to and completely outside of the established network of radical left and anarchist groups.

There is a very active Antiuniversity Now Cornwall collective, who organise their own events every year and support other local organisers in South West. People from Edinburgh, Athens and New York contacted us about setting their own branches and the answer is always the same: there is no centre and therefore no branches. The Antiuni belongs to anyone who wants to take part and everyone can develop it in whichever way they want.

What are your favourite workshops for the week ahead?

I can’t answer this question. They are all just fucking brilliant.

(Anarcho intros)

And some of your favourite workshops of previous years?

Again, I won’t mention favourites but there are a few ongoing ‘success stories’.

Xenia Women is a group that started at the 2016 Antiuni festival as a simple experiment – bring together a group of English speaking and English learning women and see how they can support each other. We were able to offer them space at the truly radical (for a municipal institute) Hackney Museum and Emma, who is the learning curator there, advised them on how to set up. They have since developed into a fully sustainable organisation, running weekly session and reaching out to hundreds of women. I would encourage every woman in London to join in and support them!

Another group is Molejoy. Kerry Jefferis and Sophie Chapman met at the very first Antiuni event in July 2015 and have been working together since on a range of truly amazing art collaborations. In 2017 they joined up with Giles Brunch to for the band Molejoy, who will be headlining our closing party on 15 June.

How many attendees do you expect this year?

The Antiuni has been growing steadily and we expect around 2,500-3,000 people to take part in events all over the country.

Given the self-organised nature of the event, how have venues, speakers and the like gotten funded (if at all)? Any hard and fast rules about things like sponsorship?

The Antiuni runs on zero budget. We have no money in the project because we aimed to prove we can create something outside of capitalism. No-one is paying and no one gets paid. Hosts provide their venues for free and organisers provide their time and ideas for no money. We proved it’s possible (if extremely exhausting).

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