A school about everything

Everybody is talking about lifelong learning and how important it is. A whole generation is growing up with the mindset to never stop developing, professionally and personally. Still, if you finish your studies and look around for new exciting things to learn, you will discover that there is not much out there as far as the adult education market is concerned.

In 2015, the newly founded social impact start-up, Vienna Skill Smiths, set out for its mission to create a new kind of learning environment within the Viennese community. Their concept is based on:

  • community-driven classes where everybody can be a teacher or a student
  • a place where the community shares its skills and knowledge
  • affordable workshops that inspire you to try something new (and maybe even amaze yourself so much that you continue doing what you learned)
  • the belief that everyone of us should keep their natural curiosity alive and have a place to satisfy it
  • the idea that lifelong learning becomes a part of everyday life

    A Vienna Skill Smiths sketching workshop.

    A Vienna Skill Smiths sketching workshop.

We talked with Stephan Kardos, one of the two founders of Vienna Skill Smiths, to find out how it all began.

What’s the idea and motivation behind Vienna Skill Smiths?

In a nutshell we offer a broad range of off-the-wall, short, affordable and fun classes that broaden horizons. Our teachers are members from the local community, ranging from expert hobbyists to local artists and businesses. They share, however, that they are passionate about their topic.

I personally feel that people in modern societies are disconnected from what they are capable of. We live in routines, people are busy and “technological noise” often distracts us. Humans are curious by nature but there is little room and time for trying out something new.  We want to bring people together in a creative hub, offline, and let them create, learn and pass on their skills.

How did it all start?

Mirjam [the second founder] and I met at one of my other projects where I run monthly creativity workouts and where Mirjam participated. Since then we stayed in touch and after some time, over a cup of coffee we put together our ideas of how sharing knowledge and skills could look like in a city like Vienna. We where influenced by our personal projects and backgrounds and inspired by some international initiatives.

Are there other projects like yours out there that you consider role models?

Yeah, I was mainly inspired by two US examples (Brooklyn Brainery and Rochester Brainery) as well as two Australian projects (Work Shop and Laneway Learning). They are all a bit different but all of them create inspiring learning environments and enable sharing skills and knowledge. I had some friendly e-mails or skype calls with all of them.

How is the feedback within the Viennese learning community so far?

Being 3 months in the game, we offered close to 20 classes and inspired around 200 people. The feedback from both, students and teachers, is great, very positive and constructive. We teamed up with amazing partners and found a lot of friends and supporters. I think in a city like Vienna, there are a lot of people who want to share their skills and knowledge in formats like ours. This is the best part of my job: identifying members of our community with great skills and knowledge and introducing them to the opportunity to share their passion with interested people. It’s always nice to see when they realize how much value they can create for others by sharing what they are good at.

What do I have to do if I want to become a teacher at Vienna Skill Smiths?

First and foremost you have to be passionate about what you do or know. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert hobbyist or a pro. Your motivation to share this passion trumps anything else. So the mindset is important. We host all kind of classes, but put much work in curating a good mix of art, design, handcraft, life skills, life style topics infused with some knowledge classes that are either “exotic” or help you understand something in an unconventional way.

Other than that, you would contact us over our website where we ask you to describe your class idea and learning outcome. We also actively approach people in our community. We respond and give feedback to everybody. Once the final class description is ready, it goes online and we support our teachers with ticketing, promotion and space. The only thing you need to focus on is holding a great class and inspiring others.

If you want to find out more about this and similar projects, watch this inspiring talk of Vienna Skill Smiths founder Mirjam de Klepper about social resilience at this year´s CITYx event.


Photo credit: Liane Tschentscher

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About Verena Ehrnberger

Verena works as a data privacy legal expert and studies philosophy at the University of Vienna. Always juggling multiple projects, she is seriously addicted to coffee.

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