The Purple Thistle Centre (Vancouver)



In 2001 Matt Hern founded the Purple Thistle Centre with seven teenage friends looking to start an alternative-to-school community institution for youth on the Eastside of Vancouver. They were looking to start a new kind of place – not a school or youth centre or college or studio, but something else entirely.

The pack of them were sitting around Matt’s kitchen table trying to figure out what this place might look like and eventually he asked what they were doing when they were happiest, when they were thriving. They started talking about painting, writing, making films, building websites, sculpting, publishing zines, performing their poetry and spoken word, making comics : being creative. So they figured – lets start a place to do that.

So they did, and since then it has blossomed/exploded into a major and many tentacled thing. It really is a piece of work.

We run a 2500 sq/ft resource centre that has a ton of supplies, tools, materials, classes and workshops,  and its all free.  There’s a library, bike fixing shop, computer lab, silkscreening room, animation facility and lots else.  And maybe best of all, the whole thing is run by a youth collective that controls all the day-day operations and really runs the place.

What we are:

  • Youth (participant) run, primarily via the staff collective – it is very easy to participate in decision-making and understand how we work
  • Engaging in a radical way of organizing: horizontal, directly democratic, respectful, flat, open to all, permeable, collective.
  • An explicitly anti-oppressive space – we are aggressive about the Thistle being a project that confronts inequality and inequity in all its guises.
  • Free for all
  • We take care of each other – we are interested in radical generosity and a gift economy
  • Politically overt, but not ideologically pure. We are radically organized and many of us will call ourselves activist, but you don’t have to be an activist or even be especially political to be part of the Thistle. And we won’t make you feel bad if you’re not really interested in politics.
  • We want to work with people who are nice, think of each other, share their food, care about stuff, and have opinions and ideas – just don’t be an asshole, OK?
  • We are an alternative to school for many (a deschooling centre) – but you are totally welcome here if you are in school, college, university or some kind of training. We won’t think ill of you at all if you are in school.
  • We are low to the ground and DIT (doin’ it together) – we make things, often together and sometimes on our own!


  • We are not a sectarian sinkhole. We want to talk politics, argue, have opinions, have differences, think about radical social change and act on those ideas. But we’re not down with the kinds of petty, backbiting, mean-spirited, trash-talking bullshit that dooms so many places. We’re good with difference.
  • We’re not profiteers. We are not into making money off anyone. We try to pay as many people as possible and all at the same rate. We are into people developing sustainable livelihoods and economic self-sufficiency. We love when people can make good money at the Thistle, but we’re not into fucking people over for money.
  • We are not top-down or hierarchical. We think about this a lot and look at how power is operating everywhere in the Thistle and how we can share it fairly.
  • We are not a school (although we are often mistaken for one). We’re not even a nice school, or a democratic school, we are rethinking the idea of institutionalizing youth entirely.


  • We are an open resource centre with a ton of tools, supplies, technology, people, machines, materials, books, zines, bike fixing stuff, herbal medicine, rooms etc. You are free to come in and use anything you like.
  • We run a whole lot of classes and workshops. Some of these are semi-permanent, others shift over the year. Some are on-going, some are one-and-done.
  • We host all kinds of events – both at the Centre and in other places. We also attend and participate in lots of festivals, conferences and other events.
  • We collaborate with all kinds of other organizations and projects. We are really into working with anyone and everyone, mostly in the neighbourhood, but anywhere really, and are open to lots of ideas. We are also totally in to other groups coming in and using our space.
  • We run a full-time, paid training program for young women during the day called Dream Seeds.


We’d love you to come visit, check us out, get involved, join the crew. There are a few routes we’d suggest:

  • contact our youth coordinator, Sylvia and she can hook you up or visit with you!
  • Join one of the classes – the email contacts for everyone are all over the website.
  • Talk to one of the collective members and get them to bring you down and show you around.
  • Just show up. We’re open 430-10:00 pm Monday and Wednesday and 4:30 – 7:00 Tuesday and Thursday for drop-in. There will be a collective member here who can show you around.
  • Send us an email. There are lots of possibilities on the site.
  • Join our facebook group


The collective is a group of 12-20 volunteer youth (aged 15-30ish) staff each of whom has a key and keeps the space open for one 3-hour shift per week.

The collective meets every Monday night at 7:00, and together we make all the decisions regarding the space, build the schedule, create projects and listen to what one another is up to. The Monday meetings are open to all and everyone who comes participates as an equal. We make decisions consensually and everything is open for discussion.


Sure thing. If you are interested in being part of the collective, just hang around, get to know everyone, come to meetings, and after a while, once you understand the place and how you can contribute, ask us at a collective meeting.


We eschew the tyranny of the majority in favour of compromise (we don’t vote, we decide together).
And that nobody is the boss of anybody else.
Come talk to us for more information.

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