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Steel City Folk School: "A Community of Learners"

Artists, bakers, professors, and ecologists are coming together to teach Pittsburghers how to write and perform spoken word poetry, how to bake a perfect loaf of bread, and how to incorporate plants in urban settings at the Steel City Folk School’s very first “pop-up event” this Saturday, June 20.

The folk school’s one-day event offers 11 half- and full-day courses to anyone interested in the Pittsburgh area.

But what exactly is a “folk school?"

Randy Bartlett, founder and executive director of the Steel City Folk School, said folk schools originated in Denmark to give adults an informal education on a wide range of subjects, such as the arts, politics, or philosophy. There are many in the United States, including the John C. Campbell Folk School, which offers instruction on traditional American crafts such as woodworking or blacksmithing, and the Highlander Research and Education Center, which focuses on social justice and activism.

Bartlett said the Steel City Folk School’s courses combine both aspects of these schools.

“We have split the classes up into ‘Artifact,’ trying to have that sort of craft, ‘using your hands’ component of folk schools, and also ‘Awareness,’ the knowledge and social justice element of folk schools,” he said.

Each class takes about 8-10 students, depending on the instructor’s preference, and will be held at the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh in Bloomfield.

All of the instructors are Pittsburgh-based artisans and educators who are volunteering their time for the Steel City Folk School’s inaugural day, according to Bartlett. All classes are free with the exception of material fees for select workshops.

Bartlett said the school not only offers an opportunity for students to learn a new skill, but also allows these artisans to showcase their crafts by teaching a class.

“I’ve been here [in Pittsburgh] 10 years and have met so many amazing people who are doing amazing work, and to create a community where we can share some of that amazing work, and everyone can teach something and everyone can learn something, is something that we’re really excited about,” said Bartlett.

At the end of the day, students will come together for an “exhibition of learning.” Because of the wide range of classes offered, this allows students to mingle and share what they’ve learned. This focus on community building sets the Steel City Folk School apart from other organizations offering similar classes, said Bartlett.

“The Steel City Folk School is designed to be a community of learners and a community of learners who are curious about many things,” he said.

Bartlett said after this initial one-day event, the school hopes to establish itself as a permanent organization that offers long and short term courses and even weekend retreats. For now, though, he said they are thrilled with the 100+ people who have registered for this Saturday’s classes.

“The degree of interest that people have in learning and exploring knowledge and exploring skills, I think, is really a testament to how wonderful the city of Pittsburgh is,” said Bartlett. “It’s been really inspiring to see the positive response to this idea.”