Founder & Executive Director
Justine Kolata is founder and director of The Public Sphere, a cultural organization that works to revive Enlightenment salon culture and strengthen structures of participatory democracy. She is also co-founder and co-director of The Bildung Institute, an institute which teaches the art of self-cultivation and organizes private salon events.
She received her BA with distinction from Yale University, her M.Phil. with distinction from the University of Cambridge, and is currently pursuing a PhD in the German department at the University of Cambridge on enlightenment salon culture and conceptions of Bildung, self-cultivation, and die schöne seele, the beautiful soul, in German Philosophy.
Matthew is passionate about the transformative power of conversation. Inspired by an interest in bridging the biological and social sciences, Matthew read Human Sciences at Oxford University, where he was a New College Scholar, then pursued a Master's in Evolutionary and Cognitive Anthropology.
As president of the Oxford Muse Society, Matthew hosted conversation dinners inspired by the philosopher and historian Theodore Zeldin. He discovered through these the power and pleasure of conversation, and how great conversation requires an art of intellectual generosity and empathic imagination.
He has previously worked with the Institute of Art and Ideas at their HowTheLightGetsIn Philosophy Festival, and as a strategic foresight analyst for a tech research firm. He was most recently at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) where, in collaboration with Justine, he developed and launched the first RSA Salon series to promote civic debate.
Michael M. Lerch is an organic synthetic chemist currently working in the Northern Netherlands (Groningen, Ph.D. student in the Feringa Group). He was born and raised in Switzerland. After studies and research stays at ETH, the University of Cambridge, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Florence, he is currently working on light-activatable drugs for treatment of challenging diseases.
He is passionate about the philosophy of science and science communication. Besides actively pursuing the revival of the salon culture as a means to address key contemporary and future societal issues, he loves Jazz and reading.
After teaching philosophy at Lansdowne College, Yashka launched British Fashion Council supported design house StudioYASHKA, unique in engineering enlightenment through the design of luxurious tools for philosophical living.
Educated at the United World College of the Atlantic and Warwick University, Yashka’s work has been exhibited at London Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week and most recently at the British Ambassador’s residence in Japan. Having guest lectured at Central Saint Martins, Yashka recently shared her current research on the potential applications of embodied cognition for design practice at the Wellcome Collection. Previous writing includes an essay series for the Saatchi Gallery Magazine.
Yashka is also co-founder and co-director of The Bildung Institute, an institute which teaches the art of self-cultivation and organizes private salon events.
Our Board of Advisors
Professor Dena Goodman
Lila Miller Collegiate Professor of History and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan, Enlightenment Scholar and Expert on Salons
Professor Peter de Bolla
Professor of Cultural History and Aesthetics, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge
Harvard Visiting Scholar, Public Intellectual, Magazine founder
Professor Hans Köchler
Professor of Philosophy, The University of Innsbruck, President of the International Progress Organization
Philosopher and Director of The Institute of Art and Ideas