After School is education re-imagined for the curious adult, according to the founder and principal organizer of the new west-end speaker series.
“Really, it’s about re-imagining higher learning and cultural engagement outside of university,” Nicola Spunt said. “The idea is to pull all the exciting and inspiring things that happen in a classroom and transport them to the after school.”
A Brockton resident, Spunt was a teaching assistant throughout her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She finished her PhD in English literature at York University last year.
“The job market is insanely bleak in academia,” she said. “You could be up against 800 or 1,000 applicants for one position.”
With a lack of tenure or contract positions within academia, Spunt said she was searching for a way to keep a foot in higher learning.
“I love teaching and the exchange of ideas. I love an inspiring classroom,” Spunt said.
That was when she said she came up with the idea of organizing a speaker series.
After School took shape organically, starting as a way of connecting people completing PhDs into an interdisciplinary speaker series that involves academics and non-academics.
After School taps into a nostalgia, Spunt said, and gives those who may have been out of school for 10 or more years an academic experience outside of a classroom and in a more social atmosphere.
“It is supposed to be social. You bring friends or you meet new people,” she said. “I think it helps people feel a sense of engagement, community and fun.”
The idea is for it not to feel like a stuffy lecture hall, so Spunt said they are trying to be creative with the format and possibly include interviews, panel discussions, talks using PowerPoint images and art. The series is not hosted at a university, but instead at spaces in the community such as pubs and art galleries.
“It’s not alienating and it isn’t someone droning at the front of the room,” Spunt said.
After School hosted two events toward the end of 2012 and has five speakers lined up for 2013.
The first event of 2013 is a steamy Valentine’s Day talk, which is being held as part of a larger event called Long Winter Vol. 4 at the Great Hall on Queen West Friday, Feb. 8. Long Winter is a monthly night of immersive and interactive music, installations, visual art, readings, food and dance, and is a pay-what-you-can event.
This is the first time After School is participating in the Long Winter series. The After School talk that evening, titled Modern Love, Sex and Singleness, will feature Michael Cobb, the author of Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, and Arianne Shaffer, the curator of Love Letters to a Friend. It takes place from 9 to 9:45 p.m.
“Because it is the week before Valentine’s Day, I wanted to do something a little more edgy,” she said.
Spunt develops the programs with a team of advisors, she calls the Students’ Council, made up of academics, filmmakers, fundraisers and community animators.
On Feb. 20, After School will present a talk with Dorion Sagan, American science writer, essayist and theorist, at Milk Glass Co., an art gallery at 1247 Dundas St. W. That venue will also play host to a talk in March by former Toronto mayor David Miller, who will speak on community, city building, environment and social justice.
The cost to attend an After School talk ranges between $10 and $25 depending on the lecturer.
Visit the After School facebook page at www.facebook.com/AfterSchoolToronto for updates.