The Vancouver Institute for Social Research

Address: periodically at the Or Gallery (555 Hamilton St, Vancouver)
Contact: Dan Adleman and Am Johal
Open Hours: twice a year, every Monday night 7-9 pm for 8-9 weeks


How is the project operated?
Not for profit; no money changes hands.

How long has it been in existence?
3 years.

What was your motivation?
After participating in a variety of local free school projects and for-profit critical theory schools abroad, we decided that we should form a hybrid enterprise. There is such an incredible, but dispersed, array of intellectual talent involved in Vancouver’s universities, galleries, and activist communities. Sadly, there are few vital conduits between these all too cloistered-off domains. Vancouver is a remarkably balkanized city so just getting people from these different discourse communities to converge was a big part of it. It was also integral that no money change hands so that the school would be in no way beholden to sponsors and wouldn’t have to pander to any other institutions or corporations. This way The Vancouver Institute for Social Research (VISR) could really claim to be a space for the free exploration of ideas, modulated to roughly a graduate school level but unhindered by the domineering influence of patrons. All of our organizers, instructors, videographers, and other volunteers provide their services free of charge. The Or Gallery, of course, generously offers us the space for free. The cumulative result is a graduate-level critical theory free school that anyone can attend.

Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
Anywhere from 2 to 5 at any given time.

How are programs funded?
No money changes hands and nobody is charged anything.

Who is responsible for the programming?
The East Vancouver Young Hegelian Society (EVYHS).

Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
2 (each lasting approximately 2 months).

What kind of events are usually organized?
For two months, each Monday night, a different instructor teaches a class organized around the semester’s theme. Afterwards, we all go to the bar for a few drinks.

How is your programming determined?
We solicit input from the community then hash it out until a flash of insight pierces the room.

Do you accept proposals/submissions?

What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
We do our best to organize semesters around themes that will speak to a diverse group of people from all over the city. In advance of the class, we make the instructor’s readings available online and then hope that attendees will read them, just as they would for a regular graduate school seminar. We also make a point of having a few non-professors teach every term. Thus far, we’ve had graduate students, activists, curators, a poet, and a practicing psychoanalyst teach classes.

What’s working? What’s not working?
Sometimes, on rare occasions, professors drop out at the last minute and leave us high and dry. Even more rarely, we will receive class proposals that are not sufficiently coherent for us to seriously consider facilitating the session. This can, unfortunately, lead to hurt feelings. Otherwise, we’ve been delighted with the results.

What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
We hope to continue creating a locus of intellectual vibrancy that will attract a broad cross-section of the city.

What idea are you most excited about for the future?
The proliferation of other free schools and experimental education projects. We’ve already had people from as nearby as Toronto and as far away as Australia contact us in order to model their free schools on ours.



Image courtesy of The Vancouver Institute for Social Research.

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