Last weekend saw the opening of Ethọ́s Lab’s first physical home in Mount Pleasant, a 1,000-square-foot space on the ground floor of 221A, a new artistic residential complex in Mount Pleasant.
Thanks to COVID-19, the non-profit after-school program, which focuses on integrating various elements of science, technology, art, engineering and math, was mainly in the virtual world for the first two years.
While it turned out pretty well for them, says founder Anthonia Ogundele, the new space offers young people a place to come after school to participate in their programming, as well as a place for Ethọ́s Lab to design future program offerings.
“Being able to connect in person, and really being able to nurture relationships and make them real is what it’s going to unlock for us,” she said.
“Now a young person doesn’t have to think too much about a login, a link or how to connect online, they can literally just drop by as part of one of our programs or offers and get access to the tools they need to create what they want.”
Ogundele created Ethọ́s Lab in 2020 after struggling to find after-school science, technology, engineering, art, and math — otherwise known as STEAM programming — for her then 11-year-old daughter in Vancouver.
The program has now delivered workshops for 12 to 18-year-olds on topics such as creating your own avatar, bias in artificial intelligence and learning to code. They took place online in Atlanthos, the country’s first-ever black people-led virtual reality environment, co-created by Ethọ́s Lab participants, and in limited, face-to-face meetings in temporary spaces.
While all youth are welcome at Ethọ́s Lab, the nonprofit focuses on the Black experience and provides Black instructors and mentors from a variety of STEAM areas. Nearly half of Ethọ́s Lab’s young participants to date have been girls, and nearly 70 percent were black — higher participation levels for both groups than most STEAM programs in the lower mainland, Ogundele said.
In addition to their 221A space, Ethọ́s Lab will also have access to a 2,700-square-foot production facility in the building that they will share with the building’s artist residents, such as Ethọ́s Lab’s cultural curator, Ndidi Cascade. The plan, Ogundele says, is to partner with artists who call 221A home.
“We’re really looking forward to building relationships with the other artists, ranging from audio production to dance,” she said.
“There can be really interesting projects coming out of that kind of collaborative community.”
The new Eths Lab district is a hub of innovation, Ogundele said, with the game studios Emily Carr University of Art and Design, the Center for Digital Media and Electronic Arts all within a 20-minute walk of Ethọ́s Lab. It is also close to other after-school program providers such as the Sarah McLachlan School of Music and arts club.
Anytrah, who lives in Surrey, has been participating in one-week virtual Ethọ́s Lab workshops since January, designing shoes, learning about cryptocurrency and blockchain, and making video games. (The Tyee uses Anytrah’s first name only to protect her privacy.)
“I really like it and it’s fun, and I get to see people like me,” Anytrah said.
Anytrah is the only black student at her school. Her mother, Shalyma Cambridge, who grew up in Vancouver, says she knows what it’s like not to see black people in education or in leadership roles at school. That’s why Cambridge appreciates the black representation at Ethọ́s Lab.
“That’s the model for inclusion, ensuring that all children have access to a diversity of leadership, a diversity of teachers and mentors and people they can look up to. So in the future they may see that as a norm,” Cambridge said.
This summer, Ethọ́s Lab is hosting a Solar Punk-themed summer camp focused on designing environmentally sustainable footwear, and is running a gaming studio in partnership with game developers from Electronic Arts.
Funding for Ethọ́s Lab’s new home comes from their ongoing fundraiser, which received a $50,000 donation from Microsoft and $25,000 from consulting firm Deloitte.
Transitioning from a virtual organization to a physical home in just two years is not a common experience for the black community in Vancouver, Ogundele added, where access to space can be a years-long struggle.
With participants as far afield as Vancouver Island, Alberta and Ontario, Ethọ́s Lab will also continue to offer online programming for young people interested in STEAM.
“What this space offers is an opportunity to unlock new connections that you can’t really see in the digital world,” she said.
“We want to be able to keep in touch with young people outside of the lower mainland,” Ogundele added, noting that they have plans to expand the physical Ethọ́s Lab to a location in Alberta by 2024.
Now that they have a physical home in Vancouver, Peetra Cartwright is able to personally attend the lab with her son Kai Brown, who has been attending Ethọ́s Lab workshops for two years.
“As a single mom, I wanted him to have a program where he could meet people, but also learn something,” Cartwright said.
“It’s a safe creative space for them to express themselves,” she added.
Brown had a passion for art when he started at Ethọ́s Lab, where he participated in urban planning and environmental workshops, as well as a competition to design sustainable homes in Surrey that met the diverse needs of the community.
“There is a lot of room for progression and to express yourself and try something different, especially with art and science. I feel like there are many different paths you can take,” he said, adding that he also appreciates the leadership training he received at Ethọ́s Lab.
“I think it builds a lot of friendship because everyone knows each other there, and even the new people, they fit together very quickly.”