Anne Focke has recently become interested in the question of work. But first who is Focke? And why is she interested in work? The answer to the first question: Focke is, to use her own words, “an intentional generalist, a matchmaker, writer, and creator.” More specifically, Focke is an artist and arts administrator who over the past 30 years has had a considerable impact on Seattle’s art community.

She and Thatcher Bailey founded Artist Trust in 1986. In the '90s, she participated in Arts Wire, a “national online network for the arts.” And for much of the previous decade, she was the executive director of Grantmakers of the Arts. Currently, she is conducting a curious community experiment with the help of Town Hall called Penny University. This experiment is addressing the question that has been on her mind lately: work in the 21st century.

"I have been thinking about work a lot, how it is defined, how it is organized. Much of my life, I have had a job in the conventional sense—with an employer and benefits—only once or twice. And so all of this time, I have been working in a way that is more and more common. As someone said, 43 percent of Americans working are doing part-time, freelance, starting something up. Not because they want to, but because that's all there is out there. And so it's interesting to think about the structure of current work and how it became that way. There have been speakers and experts in economics coming through Town Hall whose thoughts and ideas (Robert Reich, Naomi Klein, Andy Stern) have really helped me and others think about the state of work."

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As for Penny University? “The name comes from 18th-century coffee houses. For the price of a penny, you'd got the latest pamphlets, your coffee, and debates about current politics and the state of religion. Because it was just a penny, these places became known for creating a mix of people from different income levels. This is the inspiration, but I want to call it the Penny U, to update it. What makes Penny U different from other communities? Edward Wolcher [who is Curator of Community Programs at Town Hall and a collaborator] brought this up in a conversation we had: Our plan is to leave a meeting with questions rather than answers. We take a quote from, say, one of the speakers and break it down with the goal of coming up with questions.”

The next Penny U happens on November 5th at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

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