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Sarah Cooper

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Founder of The Brainery Store

The Brainery Store sells lectures. I met with Sarah Cooper, the brains behind the pop-up lecture series currently based in Geelong. Introducing audiences to local people who "inspire us in word and deed", the impressive list of lecturers have so far included Rooftop Honey, design collective Sibling, and soon the editor and creative director of Broadsheet.

What would you say was your inspiration or motivation to start The Brainery Store?

I was actually trained in contemporary dance, so I went to New York in 2011 and did an internship there. While I was there, I visited The Brooklyn Brainery. I actually read the Laneway Learning interview One Quarter Journal did and I realized that we were both inspired by them.

I needed something else besides dance. I had also studied literature, so I’m interested in getting information and analyzing things. I’m not the type of person that can be just one thing – I wanted to be a few different things. I guess The Brainery Store was my outlet.

How do you balance dance and The Brainery store?

It’s a bit hectic at the moment. I haven’t danced in a week or so that’s probably why I’m a bit… [shakes arms around a little]

A bit fidgety?

(Laughs) Yeah. Contemporary dance is my heart’s thing, as corny as that sounds. You know when you’re in school, and they ask you ‘What do you want to be?’ I feel like with The Brainery Store I’ve just made up this job for myself! I’m so driven to do it and I’m so in love with it, but it’s a completely different relationship to my relationship with contemporary dance. Starting The Brainery Store was actually also to support my dancing. In saying that though, it’s not really 50/50 right now!

What happened after you came back from New York?

I came back to Melbourne after my internship, and I planted this seed. I knew that I wanted to do something like [The Brooklyn Brainery]. I was speaking to them about starting my own version, and in the meantime Laneway Learning pops up and I’m like [pulls shocked face].

Oh no, that always happens!

It’s actually the best thing that could’ve happened. I was like, ‘Damn. They’re great.’ Then I thought, but I don’t actually want do it exactly like that – let’s think of something else I want to do. Which then took me to where I am now.

It’s been two years of re-working The Brooklyn Brainery - I’m not connected with them at this stage, or I won’t be, because we’re very different things now. I don’t do classes, I just do lectures. And I’m in regional areas. So I guess it’s all starting to make sense.

I just streamlined [the concept] a bit - the essence of The Brooklyn Brainery is still there, but still very different. From having attended classes The Brooklyn Brainery, The Brainery Store has a completely different feel.

It feels like ‘continuing education’ has taken a turn in recent years…

I think it was just the CAE (Centre for Adult Education) before. Now there’s Laneway Learning, there’s The School of Life, which is another amazing thing. And then there’s Megan Morton’s The School, workshops at Harvest in East Brunswick…. There’s so much.

You must get asked this a lot – but why Geelong?

I found that there are great things happening in Melbourne – but it’s saturated. I knew people in Geelong that love this sort of thing, but they have to come to Melbourne.

So why the attraction to Geelong? Are you from Geelong originally?

(Laughs) No. I spent a lot of time there growing up, visiting some family and things like that, but I never lived there. It was actually really exciting going there for this, like travelling to a new city. And I just felt a bit fearless [starting The Brainery Store there], because in a sense I knew no one.

Are you finding there are lots of regular audience members that come to each event?

Yeah, it’s really interesting. I can’t figure out who the demographic is… It really puzzles me. I’ve been marketing it through imagery mainly, through Instagram. Stephanie Somebody, who’s speaking tomorrow, has been teaching me the ropes - she’s like my little Instagram boss. (Laughs) Not really, she’s my good friend. She’s been advising me on to how to put forward my business, and things like that.

What are your criteria for choosing ‘lecturers’?

They’ve got to have ‘their thing’. It’s just about finding these people who do good things, and know why they do it. You can be a…[looks around the café] I don’t know, a coffee maker. But if you don’t know why you’re a barista, and what you’re on about, then it won’t work. I’m just interested in introducing new things and new information to people. I’ve been trying to find people from Geelong, but mostly I’ve found that I’ve started with people I knew from networks in Melbourne, and it’s growing from there.

Do you have anyone else working with you?

No, it’s just me at this stage. So that’s been a pretty funny thing, at times wishing I had someone else next to me to say, ‘what do you think about this?’ In another sense, having it just me means that what I’ve created is the exact vision of what I thought it would be. So that’s been really amazing to see. Sometimes scary, and sometimes I think to myself, ‘Why did you do that?!’

What do you envisage The Brainery Store becoming eventually?

Going more regional I think. In hindsight, going to these regional areas have been the point of difference. It’s actually sparked me thinking about all these other places to go to that definitely don’t have anything like this.

You could have a The Brainery Store Kombi Van across Australia!

That has been talked about actually, in my crazy ramblings to my poor boyfriend. I'd like an airstream caravan and travel across the country with it!

It’s two months today since I’ve launched. I’ve ticked off my ‘six month goals’. So now, I’ve been thinking of new steps to take. I know it can’t stay in the same format that it is forever – Geelong will get sick of me! I don’t want it to go stale. I’d love to take The Brainery Store to as many places as I can - it definitely will evolve.

Interviewed by
Vinisha Mulani

Photography by
The Ayvee Space

The Brainery Store