Talk about creating a free community school in D.C. began in January 2010. The founders — artist Kate Clark, Kristy Maruca of the Hirshhorn Museum, Don Russell of Provisions Library, Briony Hynson of Honfleur Gallery, Allison Konecki of Transformer Gallery, and Chris Simpson of the Communications Department at American University — began meeting regularly to discuss different free-school models. Provisions Library agreed to be an incubator for the fledgling project, housing meetings and acting as a fiscal sponsor.
Instead of offering classes in a fixed location, they decided programming should occur throughout the city, taking advantage of public spaces throughout D.C. Inspired by the Public School in Los Angeles, School of the Future in Brooklyn, and Trade School in NYC, Knowledge Commons DC classes would be free of monetary exchange and cross-disciplinary in content.
In May 2011, Kate Clark and Lucy Burnett received a two-month NEA artist residency grant through Honfleur Gallery and ARCH Development Corporation to support on-the-ground development of Knowledge Commons DC. The residency allowed for a month of website development, community outreach, and class solicitation. Clark and Burnett worked 40 hours a week during May and June, with significant help from the other founding members and student volunteers.
Using public spaces, community resources, and individual expertise, KCDC ran its first session in June, offering 28 classes and serving more than 230 students at locations throughout the District. Students ranged in age from 6 to 76, and hailed from every quadrant. Classes took place in private homes, public parks, the National Zoo, and on the Metro. Community partners who donated space and did outreach for the first session included:
- Big Bear Cafe (Shaw)
- Bread for the City (Shaw)
- Frederick Douglass Community Center (Anacostia)
- Honfleur Gallery (Anacostia)
- Transformer Gallery (Logan Circle)
- Pleasant Plains Workshop (Mount Pleasant)
- Provisions Library (Dupont Circle)
- Laogai Museum (Dupont Circle)
- Hirshhorn Museum (Downtown)
After the June session, the organizing team invited dedicated students and teachers to become more involved in the active organization of the school. This evolution of roles, where organizers take classes and students and teachers become part of an evolving organizing team, has produced a dynamic volunteer and community-driven model.