UPop: Learning for Its Own Sake

McGill's iconic Arts Building, built in 1843. Photo credit: Paul Lowry/Flickr. McGill's iconic Arts Building, built in 1843. Photo credit: Paul Lowry/Flickr.

Learning something new is your drug. Watching TED Talks online is your idea of a good evening at home. You’re not afraid to tackle difficult ideas, you love to have your assumptions challenged, and new and upcoming ways of solving society’s problems turn your crank. Sound familiar? Then the upcoming fall season of UPop may be for you.

Established in 2010, UPop is the name the Montréal version of Europe’s universités populaires: free learning accessible to all. It is a non-profit organization with the goal of encouraging the development of critical reflection on many of society’s issues, both locally and globally. The vision is to create a dynamic community passionate about sharing ideas and expressing opinions from many perspectives, with the exclusion of no one. UPop’s conferences take place in locations that invite participation, including bars, cafés, libraries, art galleries, and theatres (just to name a few), in the hope that people off the street will wander in, discover the talk, and join in. Validating one’s thirst for knowledge and reflection is what UPop is all about.

I attended the launch party for the fall session, which took place at La Vitrola (4602 St. Laurent) this past Tuesday, September 15. There was a good group of about 60ish people, ranging in age from 20-something all the way up to golden aged, with drinks in hand at various tables or draped across the bar (while the events are free, it is encouraged to buy a beverage to support the local business). The evening began with a quick introduction of what UPop is and then quickly gave us a taste of what we could expect. First, there was a short talk about local storytelling and how it reflects the events and values relevant at the time, but also how these stories can be revisited in order to talk about what is happening today. Next, a local comic did a set summarizing the upcoming season, touching on everything from environmentalism, to the one percent, to the plight of native women, to the patriarchy in general. Finally, the tables were moved to the side and a DJ set up shop so that we could get our dance on. So, while we talked about and touched on some really challenging subjects, the atmosphere was light, respectful, entertaining, and inclusive.

This fall there will be five conference series based on different themes: Philosophy and Comics, The History Struggle and Words of First Nations Women, The Politics of Austerity, The History of Homosexuality in the West from the 19th Century to Present, and Inequality in Healthcare. The speakers were all passionate and drew me into wanting to know more. I will definitely be checking this out.

One quick note: these conferences are all conducted in French, but don’t let that stop you! Montréal is bilingual and these talks are meant to be inclusive. Even if you your French isn’t perfect, this is a great way to practice, and your views as an anglophone in Québec could be invaluable. Also, bilingualism makes you smarter, and smart is sexy!

For more information, check out their website HERE The events are: Historie, luttes, paroles des femmes autochtones, Sept 23, Bar A, 7 p.m. and Sept 30, Bar A, 7 p.m. and Oct 7, 7 p.m., Bar A; Réduire les inégaliatés de santé, Oct 5, 6:30 p.m., Resonance Cafe; Histoire de l’homosexualité en Occident du milieu du XIXe à aujourd’hui, Oct 6, 7 p.m., Station Ho.st.