Sphere History and Current Status
Sphere College Project was founded by Richard Liston in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania in April of 2009 as an educational experiment with a focus on creating the highest quality learning experience for any adult, regardless of means. The design of Sphere’s program is heavily influenced by Black Mountain College, a similar experiment in higher learning that existed from 1933 to 1957 and produced some of the world’s most influential artists.
In the beginning, a diverse group of twenty individuals ranging in age from 23 to 80 met in two different groups of ten students each for the course entitled “Self and Other.” This course was intended to form Phase I of the students’ studies – to help the students get to know themselves and others better, and to discover their talents, passions and vocations for enriching the human experience. Classes met in various donated locations, including the Colonial Theatre, Wolfgang Books, Steel City Coffeehouse, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Classic texts, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Genesis, the Bhagavad Gita, selections from the writings of Galileo, and The Merchant of Venice, to name just a few, were collected by Richard’s former students at Ursinus College and utilized in the courses.
Sphere continued in the same manner for the next 5 years, seeking to become solidified. Some students remained throughout the entire period, and others came and went; some drove from remote locations. We briefly hired a teacher for the “Self and Other” course. During this early period of Sphere the future of the Project was uncertain, but the goal was too important to abandon. In 2012, a store called Local Sphere was opened on Main Street in Phoenixville, with retail space in front for local artisans, and classroom space for the Sphere College Project. A short time after opening Local Sphere, Richard was compelled to move to Asheville for personal reasons and operations in Phoenixville were put on hold.
We are excited that the time has arrived to reinvigorate Sphere by establishing the program in Asheville, NC. Sphere is now an IRS tax-exempt entity, and we are demonstrating our value in the community and our ability to quickly produce results by implementing a Minority Contractor Mentorship Program. The program, which begins to help close the economic opportunity gap in Asheville for African-Americans, provides direct mentorship to contractors for the purposes of helping them become NC DOT DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) certified, and assists in skills development so they can stabilize and expand their businesses. As we demonstrate our viability and value and achieve funding we plan on implementing a broader version of Sphere’s three-phase mentorship program.
After becoming established in Asheville, Sphere plans to begin development in other communities in the US.