There was a time earlier this summer when the Sphere College Project—the experimental, and ambitious, Phoenixville-based institution of higher learning that invites its students to pick their own curriculum, and tuition—looked to be at the end.
Despite a passionate, albeit small, student body and a founder who poured his life savings and more into the project, they were running out of money and in self-described crisis. Three-and-a-half years in, Sphere was holding classes in churches and coffee shops. Just holding on. And now…
“We have a home,” gushed founder Richard Liston.
Thanks to an imaginative landlord, and a local community of artists and merchants eager to lend their support to the project, the college has opened a campus on 12 S. Main Street.
Local Sphere is more than just a classroom though. To keep the lights on, Liston and his students will maintain a market in the front of the building where local vendors and artisans sell goods.
“We’re working on things like soaps, teas, and honeys, shelf stable items,” said Liston.
“We have 15 vendors,” added Sphere student and store manager Jesse Antonini. “A lot of them from the Phoenixville Farmers Market.”
Behind the market is a classroom space for the Sphere students and upstairs is a gallery where Local Sphere will feature six area artists.
Antonini said the space was conceived of as a platform where ideas and people can easily meet and mingle, a cultural nexus.
“It’s meant to be focal point of the community; artistically, musically, and intellectually,” he explained.
“It’s based on the Small World Network,” Antonini added, referring to the mathematical construct, since co-opted by social networks, wherein strangers, and ideas, who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths are linked by mutual acquaintances. It’s a formula for new ideas and, Sphere hopes, for a thriving non-traditional college.
To kick start the opening of its platform, the college has scheduled a four-day celebratory slate. Local musicians, artists, glass blowers, and street performers, headlined by band Mostly Maybe, will be on hand to usher in the start of something new. And, Liston expects, lasting.
“We’ve been waiting three-and-a-half years for this,” the founder said, excitement barely contained. “I’m certain this is going to work.”