Learnapalooza: A fest for your mind

So you have an idea for a community project. And it's brilliant. And it will involve lots of people and create newfound bonds within your neighborhood, and people will love it and share it and participate for years to come.

It's a nice thought. But how do you turn that initial enthusiasm into the fulfillment of your vision? The founders of Learnapalooza are eager to show you.
 
Saturday marks the third annual Learnapalooza festival, Wicker Park's free day of learning that links teachers of various skills with people excited to learn them, all hosted in community buildings and local businesses. Among the classes available will be How To Be A DJ; Fight Like a Film Star; urban chicken farming; and a cornucopia of dance, cooking, card and musical classes.
 
This year's fest also includes an expansion to Lakeview on July 21.

But perhaps the most significant addition to the fest is Learnapalooza Cafe, an opportunity to learn how to organize, create and successfully produce your dream project. The idea came from the co-founders' own growing pains in creating Learnapalooza.

"You have a great idea," co-founder Maggie Schutz said. "How do you meet the right people to make it happen?"

In the summer of 2009, Schutz and co-founder Sarah Press were searching for those "right people." Press was already working on her own project, CommuniTeach, basically a single-serving Learnapalooza, when she hooked up with Schutz, who was interested in expanding the CommuniTeach concept into a full day with many courses. The enthusiasm was there, as was the idea, but it wasn't until June 2010 that these two, along with co-dreamers Brian Bullington, Zach Schneider and Matt Keenan, were able to create the first Learnapalooza event.

Now, after two successful years, Schutz and Co. want to help others fulfill their own vision.

"We want to have a collaboration board," Schutz said about Learnapalooza Cafe. "The idea is, you bring in your project, you have your project on the board, and you break it into three levels of how people can work with you to make your project happen."

The "three levels" come from Victor Saad, founder of the Leap Year Project, an online community building initiative launched in Chicago this past April in which "Leapers" share their stories of how they launched their own community project. Victor termed the three levels "creative," "collaborator," and "catalyst," while Learnapalooza has renamed them "creative," "specialists," and "partners."

"Creative is brainstorming," Schutz said, "someone to brainstorm with me and figure out the structure." A specialist "would be someone like Zach [Learnapalooza's web master] who comes in and helps us do one specific task. And a partner is one of those people which Brian would fall into," that being a person who will go all-hands-on-deck and dedicate as much time to the project as its founders.

Finding the "right people" also means finding a balance of types of people at each level. First, Bullington said, you need a cheerleader. Then you want to find a person who will tell you what you're really in for. That sort of person will help you, as Bullington said, "get over that hump [of]--one more cool idea that I'm going to say at a party.'"

Now well over the hump, the Learnapalooza gang is focused on streamlining their process while exploring the most efficient ways to expand into other neighborhoods. Lakeview is first and, they hope, others will follow. Like the saying goes: Give a man to fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to run a Learnapalooza, and he'll teach a million men to fish.

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @ReadJack