Co.Lab is a free, non-profit (501c3) fabrication lab and craft studio with a mission to empower and support innovators of color, the queer community, women and other underrepresented groups, regardless of financial situation, by providing a safe, inclusive environment.
How did you get started?
The four of us have backgrounds in education and making. Though we have witnessed increased opportunities for students to learn-by-making in school, there is a significant gap in terms of equity and access to adult creative spaces. The Austin area reflects this reality, which continues the historic racial and economic segregation we see daily. The idea for co.lab grew out of recognizing the need for a space that challenges the status quo by leveling the playing field.
How have you evolved?
Our doors officially opened about seven months ago. During this short period, we have learned essential lessons due to critical feedback. Being receptive to such feedback helps to keep us honest and accountable to the culture while also maintaining our creative space open and safe for communication.
One such example occurred when we held our first basic safety and use class for laser cutting. Our excitement led us to jump right into the lesson instead of building community. Luckily, one of the participants gave us feedback on this, and since then, we are much more intentional and mindful in our event planning. Now, we begin all our events are clearly grounded in community building.
What have been your biggest struggles so far?
There are so many! Upon our opening, one of the biggest struggles was time and energy. Our community space opened in the middle of the school year; the four of us worked evenings at co.lab after long, full days of teaching. Additionally, our weekends were filled with family, side-jobs, and keeping co.lab doors open. Today, we are grateful to our growing community. Since those early days, we have several volunteer staff members who donate their time to help us manage the space. Nonetheless, our most pressing concern is sustainability and making sure we are doing everything we can to secure grants and other revenue sources.
Is there a win you’re really proud of and would like to share?
One of the small business that utilizes our space is Street Forge Armoury. This company is a black-owned, training weapons fabrication company that is operated by Jeffery “Da’Shade” Johnson and co.lab co-founder, Da’Mon Stith. Their focus is on the re-creation of traditional African and Middle Eastern training weapons. Before having consistent access to CNC milling at co.lab, each piece had to be taken through a time consuming, hand-made manufacturing process in their front yard. Street Forge Armoury helped to create a market for these types of training weapons a few years ago. However, businesses with access to digital fabrication resources and space were essentially taking their designs and mass producing them. These days, what used to Street Forge hours has been reduced to minutes, and their inventory and design possibilities are both expanding. Our collaboration is reflective of who were are as a community.
What kinds of activities/events do you have at your space?
Our community’s favorites event is our Friday Happy Hours, which focuses on a creative activity (tinkering and crafting). Our Friday Happy Hours offer our community a chance to learn a new skill in a safe space while also socializing and building community.
What do you envision for the future of your space?
It is quite exciting to know that we are outgrowing our current location. We are looking forward to reaching a point where we have both funding and community support to expand our space and be accessible to more people. These past few months have taught us valuable lessons. We are educators who are learning how to run a non-profit creative space by taking risks, researching, collaboration, and making mistakes. We know that with the community’s support and shared-knowledge, our future is limitless in its vision to create a level playing field to our underserved population.
How can people learn more?
Besides our website, people can learn more about us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter or contact us via email at [email protected]