Renowned author Alan Kaufman said he first conceived of his idea for a free school six years ago when he transformed his Academy of Art University pop-culture class into a protest campaigning for freedom of speech.
Now, Kaufman’s dream has blossomed into the Free University of San Francisco, where the courses taught in the classy Mission district antique store Viracocha are indeed on the house.
The university kicked off its classes last weekend with several fascinating, counterculture “teachers” with captivating stories to tell.
On Sunday, famed alternative publisher V. Vale and photographer Charles Gatewood told a class of about 25 students how they published the influential book “Modern Primitives” in 1989. The book, which celebrated tattoo artistry and body piercing, is credited with setting off the boom in both art forms.
That discussion was sandwiched between “Restoring San Francisco’s Urban Wildlands” and “Abolishing Corporate Personhood to Create Authentic Democracy.”
In a basement usually used for cozy art shows, Vale and Gatewood told their stories to men and women of all ages, shapes and hair colors.
It was the second day of class at the 998 Valencia St. store, which appropriately sells vintage typewriters, furniture and knickknacks. Kaufman said when he led a class Saturday about famed poet Jack Kerouac, jazz pianist Thelonious Monk and painter Jackson Pollock, “It was filled to the rafters.”
The author, who was instrumental in the development of the spoken-word scene in American literature, thanked a list of several supporters and fellow instructors, such as former supervisor and mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez and attorney Bobby Coleman, the co-founder of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade, who all taught Saturday.
Although the university’s debut comes at a time when college tuitions are skyrocketing nationwide, Kaufman said he was really motivated by a desire to create a community free from monetary shackles.
“It’s about liberation,” he said. “The revolutionary essence of this is ‘free.’”
“We’re a lefty university,” he said jokingly, noting he lost his job at the Academy of Art after initiating a walkout to object the dismissal of a student and a teacher over First Amendment issues.
Students such as Sonia Lei, 24, who moved to the Mission district recently after graduating from Dartmouth College, appreciated the effort.
“It’s amazing,” said Lei, who attended classes both days.
The Free University of San Francisco started classes this past weekend and will continue to offer them at the antique shop Viracocha at 998 Valencia St.