Skill Swap Musings from Meghan Kallman (2013)

by Meghan Kallman, one of the co-founders of Epic Skill Swap

About a year and a half ago I was at some sort of gathering full of great people. In one corner someone was playing the guitar and a little group was singing, and someone else was explaining his job—suicide prevention—to another little group. (The person in question was none other than Hollis Easter, one of Epic Skill Swap’s stellar co-organizers). I was eavesdropping a little bit, and thinking that, though I’d known Hollis for a while, I didn’t know why he does suicide prevention. I was astounded by how much he knew about it. And I had this little thought, like “hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have some sort of get-together so that people could explain to each other the interesting things that we know how to do and why we care about doing them?”.

And so Charis and Alison and I hammered together the first Epic Skill Swap in 2012. We had no idea what was going to happen; we rounded up as many people as we could get our hands on, asked them what they would want to teach in a long-weekend skill sharing workshop, begged some field space off of a beautiful farm in Northwest Connecticut, set up a few tents, and crossed our fingers.

Meghan with aerial silksAwesomeness ensued. We learned amazing things (the highlight of that weekend for me was doing yoga on aerial silks, a workshop that will fortunately be offered again this year), and we also figured out how to make a little village like that tick. When, at the end of the weekend, a surprise funnel cloud came over the hill and we had to have thirty people holding the event tent down and the wind was ripping around us and the hail was pounding down on everything in sight and the lightning was wayyy too close for comfort, it became clear to me that even a small community forged by forty-eight hours of learning and goofing off is a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve been an activist for a long time now, confronting and marching and sitting-in and letter-writing and boycotting and doing all sorts of other things. And I consider Skill Swap one of the most inspiring kinds of activism I’ve ever been a part of. Here’s why:

  1. It is generative. Epic Skill Swap gives us tools to help build the kind of world we want. Critiquing the kind of world we currently have is important, but equally important is prefiguring the things we want to persist.
  2. It draws on and capitalizes on power, knowledge, and skill that our communities already have. It continually gives us the opportunity to be impressed by others’ badass-ness.
  3. It enables us to build power and acquire knowledge and skills from those same badasses. See kids? Learning can be fun!
  4. Actually, that business about fun is for real. I’m a sociologist, and some insightful studies in my discipline have shown that it’s the close friendships that really matter when the rubber hits the road. Folks who sat in at the lunch counters to protest segregation did so because their close friends encouraged them to, and sat by their sides. Relationships that are built on fun and community sustain us during tough times. And so making space to build those relationships is important.
  5. Also, who wouldn’t want to learn how to make yogurt?

Skill Swap will be different this year—we outgrew the whole camp-in-a-field-without-infrastructure business. We hope that our space at Wilmot will make the weekend accessible for a broader group of folks, and permit sharing of some more complex skills. We’ve got a bigger group of people organizing (on a consensus basis), bringing up questions of how you put on a party like this in the most just, inclusionary, transparent, and accessible way possible. We’ve started to think in the past few months about a mission statement, and as part of that have put together some musings about what the Epic Skill Swap is to each of us, and why it matters. I hope you’ll share some of your own thoughts with us this year. The mission statement as such isn’t important—but knowing what this festival means to everyone is.

Meghan teaching about brandy infusions