University of the Underground

Foundation of charity, fundraising, development, programmes and curriculum, overall operations and executive direction since 2017

TASK/CHALLENGE:

Foundation of charity, fundraising, development, programmes and curriculum, overall operations and executive direction since 2017

Read an interview on the University of the Underground between Nelly Ben Hayoun and Arjun Appadurai on WePresent

How can we democratise access and experiences of public institutions, bringing generations together to trigger change and critical reflection through the use of creative and experiential practices? 

How can we provide students with the tools and means to learn to understand their professions as the increasingly multi-faceted and malleable roles they assume in today’s world (which is ever changing and disorienting) – where designers enter the realm of authors, directors, politicians, planners, dreamers, activists, mythologists and musicians?

This is a most urgent mission as it is advocating for transnationalism and plurality in education and beyond in the reminiscence of totalitarianism temptations and ideological policies with Trump, Le Pen and now Bolsonaro in Brazil. In this context, it is important to address plurality in thinking, now more than ever, since the temptation for ideological regimes are making a fierce revival in society.

APPROACH:

The University of the Underground is a free, pluralistic and transnational university based in the basement of nightclubs – with headquarters in Amsterdam and London – and actively working with both institutions and nightlife to modify power structures through events, engineering situations and experiences from within, whilst supporting and empowering countercultures long term.

For the University of the Underground, it is essential to rethink education beyond national borders, but also to build a federation of cooperative schools globally to support the development, identification and empowerment of countercultures in institutions. The University of the Underground Charity supports students from around the world by granting them scholarships while it co-hosts a master’s programme, the Masters Design of Experiences, with an accredited academic partner, as well as running public events, radio programmes, and workshops.

The Masters Design of Experiences exists at the nexus between critical design, experiential, theatrical, operatic, filmic, semiotic, political and musical practices. It aims to teach students how to engineer situations, to design experiences and events to best support social dreaming, social actions and power shifts within institutions, companies and governments.

Read an interview with Nelly at Riposted Magazine on the University of the Underground's curriculum here

OUTPUT :

Since 2017, at the University of the Underground, we have:

  • We have invited 370 unique practitioners to host lectures and workshops.
  • Have founded an advisory board composed of  international thinkers, philosophers, activists, academics, politicians, musicians, filmmakers, innovative entrepreneurs, but also creatives and activists such as Prof. Noam Chomsky, Serpentine Galleries artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist, academic Prof. Arjun Appadurai, European MEP Magid Magid, performers such as Ishmael Butler of Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces, and musicians Massive Attack, drag performer Peaches Christ, Ted Prize winner and SETI Institute scientist Dr. Jill Tarter, activist Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers, President of file transfer service WeTransfer Damian Bradfield, and MOMA curator Paola Antonelli amongst other pluridisciplinary practitioners.
  • We have welcomed 94 international students (data 2017-summer 2022)
  • Have 6000+ youths following our classes online on socials and newsletters
  • Since 2020 provided free and public online classes to over 20,422 people.
  • Provided an accredited free 2 year master programme
  • Ran 8 research programmes
  • Directed 6 fundraising campaigns and developed patronage structure
  • Collaborated with world-leading institutions (United Nations, Hannah Arendt Centre, Bard College etc)
  • Hosted research trips to the desert, Cairo, Tbilisi, Mexico, New York, Amsterdam, London (and soon Taiwan)
  • Had 4 students going onto do PhDs based on their research output at the University of the Underground
  • Lead a nationwide festival celebrating youth and nightlife called Tour de Moon across the UK in 2022

'University of the Underground is pushing the outer limits of the imagination.' It's Nice That

 

'The colonial faculty was always, "We have the truth, now let us teach you what it is...” It's called a “civilizing mission.” I think the University of the Underground is exactly the opposite: it's taking people who come from many complex lives, societies, situations and asking them to share that with each other. The key to me for decolonising is the freedom to look ahead rather than be slaves: not just to the past, but to someone else's past.' Prof. Arjun Appadurai