Arts & Entertainment: StoryLab program gives kids hands on experience making art

Two of the rappers on the Jan. 18 bill at Tacoma’s Anthem Coffee & Tea are performing in public for the first time. But they should be ready, having honed their chops at Tacoma Public Library.

Normally, hanging out at the library does not earn a rapper much street cred. But Teeler and Slick R.I.C. have been learning how to make sample-based music through StoryLab, a program created by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation that gives local teens free, hands-on experience using technology to carry out their creative pursuits.

Last weekend, Teeler went to the lab – which is located at the library’s downtown branch – to get performance pointers from local rap vet Quincy “Q Dot” Henry, who puts on hip-hop workshops through StoryLab. Teeler, 19 – whose real name is Tyler Irwin – cued up a few beats he had created on one of the lab’s iMacs before running through his set.

“Remember where you’re at in your position of power,” went the refrain from his first song, “’cause words mean a lot but your actions speak louder.”

Between cuts, Henry gave him pointers on improving his body language and eye contact. “You’re dealing with a lot of different barriers that are being put in front of you,” he explained, crossing his arms like a bored audience member. “How are you going to break down everyone doing this to you for your 20 minutes?”

Teeler learned about StoryLab from his foster brother. “I’ve been doing music here for about a year now,” he said. “I used to just write for a hobby. Then I came in, recorded my first song and I was lovin’ it.”

Teeler recorded his first CD, which is called “A Life Through Speakers,” at StoryLab. And over the last several months he has learned how to do everything from compressing sound files in Log Pro music software to how to book his own shows and run a record label.

“From Q Dot, I learned a lot about the business side,” he said. “It’s actually pushed me towards doing business management in college so I can do my own music,” he said. “That’s what I want to do – have my own label.”

Story Lab is open 2 to 5:45 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the downtown branch, which is located at 1102 Tacoma Ave. S. The lab is free and open to 11- to 21-year-olds who want to learn how to record music, make movies, create anime and illustrate digitally.

“Anything that the kids wanna do that involves technology, we can pretty much figure out how to do that,” said Adam Brock, who mentors the kids that show up to the lab. “There’s still money in the grant,” he added, suggesting more tools could be added upon request.

Devin Campbell, 18, goes to the lab to check out digital video cameras he uses to shoot hip-hop dance videos. On Jan. 12 he edited footage he had shot of himself dancing in front of a blue screen that would allow him to add special effects later.

“Over here, I actually have an outlet, a place to go,” Campbell said. “They have the software, and I really have a place where I can edit and just practice my artistic skills and creativity.”

Andy Beattie, 20, of Tacoma is a beta tester who has been going to Story Lab since before it officially opened two years ago. He uses the lab to make “machinima,” short movies made using 3D computer graphics.

“So there’s a way for us to weave Andy’s interests, which are video games, into a creative process that will work for the lab,” said Brock, explaining that his goal was “turning the education model upside down.”

“What I try to do is find out what the kids are interested in and then use their interests and what they’re already passionate about to get them learning new things,” he said.

It is a style of learning Brock wishes he had seen more when he went to Curtis High School in the 1990s.

“I didn’t walk into a classroom ever and have a teacher say ‘What are you interested in? How can we work that into the curriculum?’” he recalled. “Unfortunately, I think teachers are kind of hamstrung by standardized testing and stuff like that.”

In late 2012, Tacoma Public Library launched a mobile StoryLab, which is used to conduct workshops at other library branches and at local high schools. A list of workshops can be found online at

Q Dot with Teeler, Slick R.I.C. and the T.E.A.M.

8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18

Anthem Coffee & Tea

1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

$5 at


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